Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Out of the Frying Pan, into the Fire

by Zalman Shoval

"Out of the frying pan and into the fire" is apparently the most apt description of the bloody conflict in Iraq between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Shiites, backed by Iran, and the radical jihadist faction of al-Qaida Sunnis, known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). This is not a typical civil war, nor is it merely a religious war between Sunnis and Shiites, but a zero-sum war between two Islamic blocs competing for hegemony in the entire Middle East. 

The quick successes on the ground by the Sunni jihadists against al-Maliki's crumbling forces are evidence of mistaken American foreign policy since the time of George H. W. Bush's first Gulf War, to the second Gulf War waged by his son, George W. Bush, to Barack Obama's pullout of U.S. troops, his incorrect responses to the "Arab Spring" and his decision to end the war on terror. All of these together contributed to the growth and spread of Islamist terrorists throughout the Middle East and North Africa -- including Iraq and Syria. 

The United States, however, is on the verge of yet another misstep, one which will have dangerous and far-reaching consequences that go way beyond the Iraq issue. As much as the following script sounds absurd, there are voices in Washington, on both sides of the political fence, who want to join forces with Iran to fight the Sunni Islamists threatening to roll through Baghdad, and who justify their desire with the tired explanation that "the enemy of your enemy is your friend." 

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington is "open to discussions" with Tehran if the Iranians can help end the violence and take steps that would restore confidence in the Iraqi government.

Jumping to promote the idea, as expected, were members of pro-Iranian lobby in the U.S. headed by Flynt Leverett and his wife Hillary Mann Leverett, former CIA "experts" on the Middle East and the National Security Council, and Seyed Mohammad Marandi, an American-Iranian academic who openly supports the Iranian nuclear program. Even more surprising were comments made by hawkish Republican Senator (and outspoken friend of Israel) Lindsey Graham, that the U.S. should cooperate with Iran to prevent it from becoming "the big winner in Iraq." In contrast, Senator John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate in 2008 and someone who customarily sees eye to eye with Graham, responded by saying that "U.S. and Iranian interests and goals do not align in Iraq" and "the United States should be seeking to minimize greater Iranian involvement in Iraq right now, not encouraging it."

Meanwhile, there is no doubt that ISIS, which, incidentally, grew in strength due to a lack of adequate American support for secular elements struggling against Syrian President Bashar Assad -- is the sworn enemy of the United States and the West in general. However, the claim that this necessarily justifies cooperation with Iran is foolish and immoral. There are no good guys or bad guys here, rather two unequivocally bad sides. One of these sides, Iran, is striving to acquire nuclear weapons and has threatened to commit genocide; it is a country headed by a regime that is the world's primary exporter of terrorism and whose interests and ambitions are completely contradictory to the interests and hopes of the free world. Additionally, it is also clear that the moderate Sunni world, even with all its reservations toward the Iraqi jihadists, will not be particularly thrilled over the budding romance between the U.S. and Shiite Iran. Indeed, it is a choice between two evils, but we can hope that American policy makers have enough foresight to correctly diagnose the dilemma they are currently facing.

The real American interest is so transparent and obvious, that one would need blinders not to see it. Moreover, the warming of relations with the U.S. -- and this will be the immediate outcome of American-Iranian synergy -- will grant further legitimacy to the ayatollah's regime, strengthen its hand in nuclear negotiations and will lead to the permanent deployment of Iranian military forces in Iraq, meaning the "Eastern Front" will draw even nearer to the Jordanian and Israeli borders. 

Another by-product is the shot of encouragement Hezbollah will receive in Lebanon and Syria. It is normally ill-advised for Israel, when it comes to its diplomatic and public relations campaigns, to publicly voice its views on the policies of its American friend, but in all areas pertaining to Iran, this hesitation does not exist.

Zalman Shoval


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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