The Strange Case of America and Iran

The Obama administration’s idea of foreign policy “leadership” is predicated upon naivete and miscalculation.  I can think of no single foreign policy success.  His first term started by alienating two countries that expended tremendous political capital to base a missile defense system.  This was followed by the great apology tour among Arab countries, bowing to a foreign king, “resetting” relations with Russia with a prop worthy of a kindergarten show-and-tell presentation, and withdrawing troops from Iraq and Afghanistan against sound military advice.

All this fumbling got us a lot of finger pointing at Bush, and a lot of trouble.  Emboldened by the Obama non-response in Georgia, Russia bided their time and set their sights on the Ukraine.  Emboldened by the Obama non-response to the protests in the streets of Tehran, Iran also waited and turned their sights on Iraq.

The so-called Arab Spring- a popular uprising for democratic reforms in Muslim countries- was a myth from the start.  Considering that unless ruled over by a ruthless dictatorship, no Muslim country has anything near a secular country, Obama’s naivete that his speeches spurred on these uprisings was on full display.  Quick to claim credit, to date only Tunisia could be seen as a “success,” but even here there are questions.  The Left blames Bush for naivete when it comes to Iraq, but Obama’s actions are naivete on steroids.

Part of the problem today is the focus on ISIS coupled with Obama trying to establish a foreign policy legacy.  Unfortunately, that attempt is at any cost.  To wit, the recent framework of a nuclear deal with Iran and, to a lesser extent, outreach to Cuba are the perfect examples.  While Kerry and others flew to Vienna and elsewhere trying to cobble together this deal, Iran was doing what Iran does best- meddle in regional affairs.  Much has been written that most terrorism in the region is Muslim against Muslim as if there is some great sectarian battle between the Sunnis and the Shiites.  That is only part of the dynamic and one that serves the interests of Iran when it is to their advantage.

For example, Iranian forays into Iraq certainly have a religious tint to them.  After Iran, Iraq has the largest Shiite Muslim population in the world and is the site of important Shiite cities and shrines.  Iranian intervention in Iraq makes sense if one uses religion as a pretext.  However, it does not explain Iranian support for the Assad regime in Syria since Shiites are a smaller part of the population and Assad is not Shiite.  Intervention in Syria has absolutely nothing to do with religion and, one suspects, has nothing to do with Iranian meddling in Iraq.

Where Iranian and American interests converge are in Iraq and maintaining the integrity of Iraq.  For Iran, the worst that could happen is the de facto partition of Iraq into Kurdish, Sunni, and Shiite regions.  For different reasons, Iran hates and distrusts the Kurds as much as the Turks, but they will nevertheless use the Kurds to advance their interests in Iraq and Syria.

Right now, the biggest threat to the integrity of Iraq and the Shiite majority is ISIS.  This is where things get tricky.  Despite the horrific acts of violence and brutality, the threat from ISIS to the United States is one of recruitment.  The fear is that jihadist fighters will return to their home countries in Europe and eventually find their way to the United States and commit acts of terrorism.  No one is downplaying that scenario or risk.  Interdicting them before they reach Iraq or Syria should be the goal, but failing that, making sure they do not gain entry into the US is equally important.

At this point, ISIS does not pose a bigger existential threat to the security of the United States or any ally as much as Iran does.  ISIS has knives and videotape; Iran has the potential for ballistic missiles and nuclear arms.  And although ISIS may have tanks and weaponry of war, Iran still poses the greater risk.

During the initial talks with Iran, the administration was asked why Iranian support for terrorism, a ballistic missile system and failure to recognize Israel’s right to exist were not discussed.  We were told basically “one thing at a time.”  Obama did not want to scare Iran away from the talks.  After all, the goal here was to earn Obama his foreign policy scout badge.  But the gist of the agreement is simply delaying the inevitable in the hopes that some moderate element in Iran will assume power, realize the error of their ways and lay down their missiles, guns, and nuclear aspirations.

While we wait for the inevitable, Iran’s fingerprints are all over Iraq and Syria.  They are also in Lebanon and now Yemen.  While the Arab Spring was washing over the Middle East, it stopped at the Syrian and Iraqi borders.  Why? Because it served Iran’s purposes.  They were behind the Shiite rebellion in Iraq and the associated atrocities.  They were behind the eventual metamorphosis of Al Queda in Iraq into ISIS.  This had nothing to do with Bush and the invasion of Iraq.  Bush’s actions simply sped up the process and removed the one person- Saddam Hussein- who stood between Iran and their true designs in the region.

Is it any wonder that Iran has ceased their rhetoric against American intervention in Iraq?  They see the United States doing for them what they wanted all along- an unstable Iraq which would allow them a foothold in that strategically important country.  They may welcome American air cover as they move against ISIS targets on the ground in Iraq, but they are playing the United States.  Their interests and our interests in Iraq are different, yet we are aiding and abetting their designs.

That is because Iran realizes there is a dupe in the White House who can be played like the proverbial fiddle.  While they can, they are going to get the most mileage out of the situation- and wreak the most damage and gain the most influence.  The risks of aligning oneself with Iran on anything far outweighs any good that come from a deal with them.  Clearly, this is naivete and miscalculation at its most dangerous worst.