US mood swings could boost Iran
Arab leaders should know by now they ignore the United States and its wildly erratic foreign policy swings at their peril. They should also remember that US policymakers, pundits and news outlets appear incapable of focusing on more than one issue at the same time. That is especially the case when US policy bungling created the awful mess in the first place.
The latest wild swings in US public opinion – and policymakers’ obsessions with Iran and the Islamic State (ISIS) — are a classic demonstration of this phenomenon.
For most of the past year, the US media followed the rise of ISIS like terrified – and mesmerised – spectators. ISIS and its fighters were credited with superhuman powers. The collapse of the main Iraqi army exposed the bankruptcy of then-Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s eight years of corruption, vicious anti-Sunni bias and general incompetence from 2006 to 2014.
It should have come as no surprise. It was obvious the new Iraqi army was an artificial construct put together by US “experts” who did not have a clue how to go about it and that it would collapse as soon as US forces scaled down.
Sure enough, that happened. Yet the Obama administration was taken totally by surprise when the Iraqi regular army literally disintegrated last September. After six years in power, it still had not developed serious plans to deal with this contingency.
In fact, the crisis should have been obvious to anyone familiar with the 94 years of Iraqi history since Winston Churchill artificially created the state at the 1921 Cairo Conference. Churchill was then the British Empire’s Colonial Secretary. That made him the direct ruler of one-quarter of the land territories of the Earth and of one-quarter of the human race.
Obama policymakers frantically sought a quick fix. They thought – and still believe – they had found it in mobilising the Shia militia of Iraq against ISIS.
In many respects this was an obvious and sensible move. The murderous extremism of ISIS has been relentless against all innocent Sunni Muslims caught in its path but even more against Shias of Iraq. And the principle of playing different potential enemies off against each other has been a staple of US policymaking in the Middle East for at least 35 years.
US President Jimmy Carter and his national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski applied it when they quietly approved Saddam Hussein’s idiotic decision to invade Iran in 1980 to seize its oil-rich provinces. The Reagan administration consistently supported Saddam in the strongest possible way through the following eight years of the Iran-Iraq War. It remains the bloodiest and longest war in the modern history of the Middle East.
However, the Obama administration has been willfully blind to the way its support of the Shia militias against ISIS has built up the power of Iran and its close allies, the Mehdi army, the Badr Brigades and Hashd al-Shabi, aka the Popular Mobilisation Committee of Shia groups, in Iraq. The leader of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s elite Quds Force, General Qassem Suleimani, has been directly involved in advising and coordinating them.
The cynical skill of the rulers in Tehran thus created a growing perception among Obama policymakers that Iran was a “responsible player” in the region. This prepared the way for the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear deal.
Efforts by supporters of Israel in the US Senate to block that agreement with a new legislative measure appear doomed, thanks to the bungling of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. His gratuitous efforts to humiliate US President Barack Obama by addressing a joint session of Congress without first consulting the president outraged most of the 13 Senate Democrats that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) were hoping to line up. AIPAC and the Israelis needed those 13 Democrats to ensure a veto-proof majority of at least 67 out of 100 Senate votes so Obama could not block any bill to sink the Iran nuclear deal.
So the greatest achievement of ISIS, now badly on the defensive in Iraq, has been the enormous strengthening of Shia Iran at the expense of the Sunni Arab nations of the Middle East. A grateful Obama, US Secretary of State John Kerry and national security adviser Susan Rice now believe Tehran has bailed them out twice.
First, Tehran approved the Iran-backed Shia militias in Iraq to take the field against ISIS, and defeat it. Second, they gave Obama’s people the nuclear deal they craved so badly. Early opinion polls show the American public strongly supports the agreement.
Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Arab states, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey and Pakistan have been left out in the cold. It is they who will have to survive the consequences of this latest bout of crazed US policymaking and try and clean up the carnage that American idealists and so-called experts have left behind in the region. Nothing new about that.