In his remarks about the invasion of Mosul, Tikrit — and most of the Sunni triangle of Iraq — by the “Islamic State of Iraq and Shaam” (ISIS or Daesh), President Obama defined his administration’s policies toward the ongoing descent of Mesopotamia into full-fledged civil war.
He underscored that Washington would not intervene on any side of an internal conflict because, he argued, the U.S. has already spent enough blood and treasure to give Iraq a chance. At the same time, he asserted that his administration wants to stand by Iraqis as they fight terrorism.
Such an articulation of policy sounds more like a political speech of a presidential election campaign during which one can include a list of contradicting arguments displayed in bright language: a shining abstract with no clear strategy.
The Obama approach to Iraq is one directly linked to U.S. domestic politics: There should be no mistake in U.S. policy in the Middle East that could exact a political price in the midterm elections or even, perhaps, in the 2016 race.
The priority in Washington seems to be less about the actual reality on the ground in Iraq, and more focused on the impact the next majority in Congress could have on the last two years of this current administration.
It seems that the Obama administration is attempting to recover from too many traumas to dive into a conflict that could enflame the whole region for many years to come. After the Benghazi scandal, after the wrong partnership with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, after the release of the “Taliban cabinet” from Guantanamo, after the shaky deal with the Iranian regime, and after the failure to save Syria, the administration is now trying to flee any commitment to or on Iraq.
No matter what the administration does, it fears it will again find itself in trouble in that part of the Middle East.
ISIS, a more efficient and lethal mutation of al-Qaida, has seized most of the Sunni areas in Iraq in addition to the Sunni territory it has already captured in Syria. These two adjacent emirates will form the core of a “caliphate” with thousands of suicide bombers ready to blast their local enemies and those overseas.
The confident statements by the Obama campaign that al-Qaida is now on the run after the elimination of Osama Bin Laden have been shattered with the rise of the most formidable Jihadi state to date under a younger and harsher version of Osama — al Baghdadi, the infamous commander of ISIS.
These new Jihadists are marching to Baghdad, referred to by the commander as the last capital of the Abbasids, and from there he promises to march in all directions in order to erect the greater Caliphate: Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and beyond. These campaigns may not actually seize all these countries, but terror is certain to reign across the region.
This is one catastrophe the administration was unable to predict or avoid, but there is another catastrophe generated by the former now about to occur. The Ayatollahs are intervening in Iran, and military divisions are moving to confront the Sunni Jihadists on Mesopotamian territory. As I have been predicting (in print) since 2009, Iran’s geopolitical corridor from Tehran to Beirut will be defended by the Islamic Republic of Iran at all costs.
The Obama Administration has facilitated Iran’s expansion in the region by eliminating the Iraqi-based Iranian resistance, by abandoning the Green Revolution and allowing it to be crushed, and by cutting the illogical deal with Tehran’s regime last year that included transferring cash to the Mullahs. All these inexcusable strategic mistakes allowed Iran’s forces to thrust into Iraq and Syria, moving entire divisions into the Shia zones of Iraq and drawing closer to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
The Obama administration and its political allies in academia and the media often enjoy attributing the root of any Iraq catastrophe to the Bush administration. This perception cannot be farther from reality. The previous administration fought al-Qaida, partnered with Sunni and Shia moderates, and empowered the Kurds. It backed Iranian opposition based in Iraq and inside Iran.
The Bush administration confronted the Ayatollahs and forced Assad out of Lebanon. If anything, the previous administration was failed by parts of its own bureaucracy — which became part of the Obama administration — and (starting in 2006) by a majority in Congress who until 2010 disrupted the U.S. campaign against the Jihadists and the Iranian regime.
Geopolitically, the Obama administration unilaterally ended its war on the Jihadists while killing bin Laden as a consolation prize. In addition, it offered Iraq to the Ayatollahs when it abruptly withdrew from the country and left it in the hands of pro-Iranians, frustrating the Sunni moderates.
The current administration left Syria to the radicals and Assad and abandoned Lebanon to Hezbollah. Hence, from a strategic analysis perspective, Obama can blame only itself for the Daesh blitzkrieg in Iraq’s Sunni triangle and for the forthcoming Iranian invasion.
Is there any way to get the region out of this mess? Any such solution would require going back to the genesis and executing a massive change in U.S. foreign policy — a reality we may only see after the midterm elections or, more likely, after 2016.
Dr. Walid Phares is the author of "The Coming Revolution," which in 2010 predicted the Arab Spring revolution, and the forthcoming "The Lost Spring" (March 2014). He advises members of the US Congress on the Middle East. Read more reports from Walid Phares — Click Here Now.
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