“You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor and you will have war.” – Winston S. Churchill
American policy toward the Middle East in the past two administrations has been disastrous. Maybe I’m missing something, indulging my historical hindsight or being dense myself, but it looks to me that nonpartisan ignorance and poor planning are the rule in Washington.
The Bush Administration kicked off the debacle by ending the “dual containment” policy of sanctions and restraints on both Iran and Iraq by overthrowing Saddam Hussein. Saddam was a murderous thug who well deserved hanging, but the vacuum created by his removal and the breakup of his Sunni-dominated army could not be filled, as Bush apparently believed, with a democratic regime.
Instead, multiple factions went at each others’ throats, including Shiite militias (some aligned with Iran and some not), Baathists, Sunnis (some aligned with al-Qaeda and some not), Kurds, etc. Iran, Syria and Gulf-supported Jihadists vied for influence, provided weapons and pulled strings. Today, 12 years after the invasion of Iraq, it has become a failed state, wracked by violence as pro-Iranian militias vie with ISIS for control.
Bush did not understand the complexity of the situation or the intentions of the various players. He naively believed that any person would naturally prefer a free society to a totalitarian one in which his group was on top; and he didn’t realize that in the Middle East, the most violent and ruthless party usually prevails. Instead of a democratic Iraq that would anchor Western interests in the Middle East, he got chaos.
But Obama made it worse. If there was any hope of stabilizing Iraq in 2009, it was ended by his announcement that the US would withdraw all troops from Iraq by the next year. By the end of 2011, only a handful remained.
The Obama Administration, faced with the threat of the ISIS on the one hand, and the inexorable march of Iran toward regional hegemony on the other, made a cynical decision to throw in with the gang that looks the most like a winner. Here there is no naïve faith in democracy. Instead, there is a naïve faith in the efficacy of appeasement.
The decision to tilt toward Iran (and by extension to protect Iranian ally Bashar al Assad in Syria) flies in the face of common sense. Iran has been an enemy of the US for religious, ideological and geopolitical reasons since its Islamic revolution in 1979. From the US Embassy hostage crisis, through the terrorist attacks of the 1980’s (including the one that took the lives of 241 US Marines in Beirut) and the Khobar Towers bombing in 1995 that killed 19 Americans, to providing explosives to al-Qaeda to bomb US embassies in Africa and manufacturing sophisticated IEDs to be used against American troops in Iraq, the Iranian regime has been waging war against the US via its terrorist proxies from the start.
Iranian propaganda against the US and the West has been unrelenting. As nuclear negotiators in Vienna (in the words of Omri Ceren) “slouch toward a deal,” Iran observed its annual “al-Quds [Jerusalem] Day,” with chants of “death to America,” and “death to Israel,” burning flags and effigies of President Obama and PM Netanyahu. The ‘moderate’ Iranian President Rouhani took part in the festivities. And the Iranian ‘Supreme Leader’ Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said yesterday that the struggle against the US would continue regardless of any agreement that might be reached.
Despite all this, despite the apocalyptic religious beliefs of the Ayatollahs, despite the aggressive, expansionist moves of Iran to take over Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen, and the concrete threats to Israel and Saudi Arabia, the Obama Administration has consistently capitulated to Iranian demands. Instead of increasing economic and diplomatic pressure on Iran to stop both its support of terrorism and its nuclear weapons program, it has chosen to try to appease Iran, to provide sanctions relief in return for apparent limitations on its nuclear activities that are not limitations in fact.
The Obama Administration seems to think – this is the most generous possible understanding of its behavior – that Iran can be moderated. If it is given what it wants in the Middle East (and this apparently includes the ability to produce atomic bombs), then it will reach an equilibrium with the West and end its hostility. There is, unfortunately, not a scrap of evidence that supports this hypothesis.
Israel, for its part, can’t afford to let the US test it. It won’t tolerate nuclear weapons in the hands of a near neighbor that calls for its destruction several times a day. This puts it directly in opposition to the administration. The administration claims that the only alternative to appeasing Iran is war. The truth, as Churchill said, is that the result of appeasement is war. It turns out that the one major obstacle to Obama’s carrying out his plans is Israel. Interesting how we end up at the center of the world again.
It’s worth noting that not only does this policy abandon former allies, it shreds the nuclear nonproliferation treaty which, you may recall, Iran signed. But what nation will now take its responsibilities under the treaty seriously now? The Saudi bomb is next. Of course, this is the same guy who said that chemical weapons are absolutely unacceptable, unless of course they are chlorine, which isn’t really a weapon, or maybe it isn’t a chemical, or maybe they are no Jews involved so who cares.
While the United States and the West are under attack by radical Islam in various forms, Barack Obama has chosen to embrace the most powerful and so far successful champion of radical Islam as an ally – despite its stated desire to defeat and destroy the US.
Although the policies of both Bush and Obama are based on ignorance of the realities of the Middle East, Obama’s is remarkable for its likely consequences. It deliberately strengthens an enemy without gaining anything in return, betrays allies, encourages proliferation of the most terrible weapons, encourages terrorism and will probably lead to war.
What a deal!