Over the weekend (Sept. 27-28) CNN featured several segments advancing the argument that the United States should radically reorient its foreign policy in the Middle East so it could work with (rather than against) the Islamic Republic of Iran. On his influential show "GPS", Fareed Zakaria devoted his opening remarks to "Why Iran is key to success against ISIS." He repeated the argument he had made in his Washington Postcolumn Sept. 25. "Engagement with Iran - while hard and complicated - would be a strategic game-changer, with benefits spreading from Iraq to Syria to Afghanistan." he wrote. He recognized, "In Iraq, the most important problem remains that the Sunnis do not feel represented by the Baghdad government. President Obama keeps saying that we have a new government in Iraq, but the implication that it is now inclusive is false. Sunnis continue to have ceremonial posts with little power. The army continues to be dominated by Shiites at the upper echelons." Yet, he failed to understand the obvious meaning of this situation.
His faulty logic for improving matters runs this way. The Iraq Army is needed to dislodge ISIS as airstrikes alone cannot take back territory. But the Iraq Army (which today is not much more than a Shiite militia) is not doing anything. To get Baghdad to move, Washington must appeal to Iran. "The United States has some influence with the Iraqi government, but Iran has far more. The Shiite religious parties that today run the country have been funded by Iran for decades. Their leaders lived in Tehran and Damascus during their long exiles from Saddam Hussein's regime.... If the goal is to get the Iraqi government to share more power with the Sunnis, Iran's help would be invaluable, perhaps vital."
His case rests on a false assumption; that Tehran wants to help diversify the government in Baghdad. What the Shia theocracy wants to do is incorporate the Iraqi Shiite majority into a revived Persian Empire far more powerful than the caliphate fantasy of ISIS. Zakaria claims Iran helped oust its former satrap Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, but that was because he had become ineffective. That Tehran has orchestrated a new government which Zakaria admits is still under Iranian control only proves what the real strategic goal is.
In regard to Syria, Zakaria is correct that if strikes on ISIS are successful, "the army that will most easily take advantage will be that of the Syrian regime, not the disorganized and weak Free Syrian Army." His solution is a power sharing agreement that would preserve parts (most) of the Bashar al-Assad regime. Since Tehran backs Assad, again its help is needed to broker a peace agreement. But it is more in Iran's interest to keep Assad in power and defeat all Syrian rebels. Which is why Tehran has unleashed its state-supported terrorist army Hezbollah to fight in defense of Assad.
As brutal as ISIS has been, it has not had a monopoly on atrocities. The August UN Report on the Syrian civil war found that regime forces (which include Hezbollah) "continued to perpetrate massacres and conduct widespread attacks on civilians, systematically committing murder, torture, rape and enforced disappearance amounting to crimes against humanity." Zakaria made no mention of this, not even when interviewing Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. He allowed the Iranian leader to get away with claiming how his country has been in the forefront of fighting terrorism! In fact, Tehran has armed and funded the largest terrorist movements in the region, Hamas as well as Hezbollah. To Rouhani, terrorism is a term applied only to enemies of his regime and its puppets in Iraq and Syria.
Zakaria also neglected to mention the support Iran receives from rival powers whose aims are at odds with U.S. interests. On Sept. 20, two Chinese warships, including the flagship of the East China Sea Fleet, docked in Iran to demonstrate Beijing's support for Tehran in a time of turmoil. China and Iran then conducted four days of joint exercises in the Persian Gulf.
Russia continues to arm the Assad regime and to maintain a military presence at the port of Tartous, the Kremlin's only base in the Mediterranean. Russia and China have worked had to limit and undermine sanctions placed on Iran over its nuclear weapons program. If the U.S. were to adopt Zakaria's proposal for "engagement" with Iran, it would be a quick trip to capitulation on every outstanding issue. The Tehran theocracy that would become the dominant military power in the Persian Gulf region.
It would also mean stabbing America's allies in the back, as another prominent CNN guest advocated. On his Saturday show, Michael Smerconish talked at length with Michael Scheuer, who has been cited favorably by al-Qaeda and ISIS in propaganda videos. Scheuer also appeared on CNN's "Reliable Sources" Sunday. Scheuer is a former CIA analyst who was apparently seduced by the jihadists he was studying. When he claimed only liars are left on Capitol Hill since Rep. Ron Paul retired, it should have tipped off anyone with an ounce of sense that nothing else he would say could be credible. When serving on the GOP staff of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee I saw Rep. Paul in action, and was appalled. The last time I saw him speak at a hearing; he defended Iran's right to have a nuclear program and opposed any confrontation with the Tehran regime.
Scheuer's argument is that the reason America has enemies in the Middle East is because we have "intervened" in the region. If the U.S. pulls out, abandoning its support for Israel (whose "lobby" Scheuer blames for dragging America into war) and the Sunni "dictatorships" in the Persian Gulf (including Egypt), then we can "win" against the terrorists. His definition of winning is what anyone else would call surrendering. It is the common irrationality of isolationists. President Barack Obama adopted this line, equating American troop withdrawals with peace. Instead, ISIS claims that the withdrawals were forced on a defeated U.S. Obama's claim that no "American combat troops will be returning to fight in Iraq" is cited to show fear of ISIS, according to its recent recruitment video.
Scheuer's claim that ISIS is trying to provoke America into a new quagmire is even more illogical that the rest of his odd analysis; but again it is a staple of the "cut and run" crowd. If the enemy wants to fight, we can beat them by refusing to do what they want! But the enemy does not want us to kick their behinds, which is what we always do. ISIS is not benefitting from airstrikes on its command centers, supply bases, oil refineries and heavy weapons. ISIS was rolling forward without opposition until it made the mistake of attacking the Kurds and Christians, and then beheading Western journalists. Their only hope is that the U.S. and its allies give up the fight and let them resume their marauding campaign "in peace." That is what Scheuer wants too. It is also what Tehran wants, which is why it had Maliki reject the agreement that would have kept a residual U.S. military presence in Iraq.
The 9/11 terrorist attacks were meant to scare the U.S. out of the Middle East, leaving its allies vulnerable. Iran believes nuclear weapons will scare Washington into concessions and the lifting of sanctions--- which is why Tehran will never abandon its program no matter what it may say in talks. Our enemies are correct in their assessment of some Americans, but not most Americans. The United States was not built by people who were weak in their resolve or lacked the will to prevail over adversaries. The calls for appeasement and retreat made by Zakaria and Scheuer should not be heeded.
William R. Hawkins is a consultant specializing in international economic and national security issues. He is a former economics professor and Republican Congressional staff member.
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