A new approach to U.S. Middle East strategy

Shattered Middle East Illustration by Greg Groesch/The Washington Times

Shattered Middle East Illustration by Greg Groesch/The Washington Times

The Washington Times, by , February 14, 2017:

The Trump administration has a unique opportunity to implement a new strategic policy to bring some semblance of stability to the current Middle East chaos. Under the pledge of putting “America first,” our core national security interest in the region should include the following:

• Eliminating the Islamic State as an identifiable entity.

• Preventing Iran from achieving a deliverable nuclear weapon capability.

• Preventing Iran from achieving regional hegemony.

• Supporting Iranians in their efforts to remove the corrupt Iranian theocracy.

• Keeping open vital sea lanes and strategic choke points.

  • Defending U.S. bases and facilities.

• Re-emphasizing our support for our friends and allies while assisting threatened minorities (Christians, Assyrians/Chaldeans, Kurds and Yazidis).

Our strategy in the past has been reactive, but now must be driven by our vital core objectives. In that sense, it is not in the U.S. interest to become involved in a 1,300-year-old, intra-Islamic sectarian fight between Shiites and Sunnis. From a Western perspective, there is no good side in this conflict. Both want to kill us.

It also must be recognized that much of the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement nation-state system formed in the Middle East after World War I is coming asunder. Syria and Iraq are fractured states and a readjustment of a regional balance of power between Shiite and Sunni will evolve out of the current crisis with or without U.S. involvement. Our invasion of Iraq and the destruction of Saddam Hussein’s Sunni army removed the main blocking force to the expansion of Iran’s Shiite Crescent and ensured the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS) out of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s al Qaeda in Iraq.

A Sunni entity that clearly is not ISIS should be assisted to coalesce in what used to be Iraq. Such an entity could involve Anbar Province and the Nineveh Plain, where Assyrians/Turkman/Yazidis are unifying in an effort at preservation and stabilization.

In areas outside of Alawite and Kurdish control and areas liberated from ISIS in the former Syria, Syrian Free Army (SFA) commanders believe that with U.S. and other Western support, they could pry off significant forces from jihadi militias to create a force to defeat Jabhat al-Nusra, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, and ISIS. This approach should be explored. In implementing a new strategy, we must proceed in a manner that gains cooperation from those whose involvement is essential. This includes Russia, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, and Turkey. The Gulf states must be persuaded to end support for Sunni jihadis, which can only happen if they are assured that they will not be threatened or surrounded by Iran’s Shiite Crescent.

The Trump administration’s recent declaration putting Iran “on notice” is a step in the right direction, as were U.S. Treasury sanctions on 12 entities for supporting Iran’s illicit ballistic missile program. Further, President Trump’s call for establishing safe zones in Syria, e.g., one in the northern Kurdish area, one along the Turkish border, and one on the Jordanian border, could help relieve economic pressure on Jordan and Turkey, which are providing support to millions of refugees. In return, we should expect Turkey and Jordan’s support for our new regional strategy.

President Obama’s policy that deliberately empowered Iran to advance its geostrategic ambitions and move toward a deliverable nuclear weapons capability is over. Our so-called nuclear agreement with Iran must also be terminated and Iran’s joint venture relationship, using North Korea as its off-site laboratory to advance its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, must end. Holding Iran accountable to the agreement is a pipe dream. There is no agreement. Further, a clear, unambiguous declaration from the Trump administration with appropriate follow-on action will go a long way to gain Saudi and GCC cooperation.

With regard to Syria, Bashar Assad must go. It appears Russia may support such action as it reportedly proposed Alawite Gen. Manas Tlass (formerly with the Hafez Assad regime) as his replacement at the Astana talks. SFA commanders may accept this as long as the Assad clan is out of power and in exile. Under such an arrangement, the Alawites would keep control of Damascus and their coastal strip heartland, but lose the rest of former Syria. This is the de facto current situation on the ground today.

Russia may find such an arrangement acceptable, provided it keeps its bases in Latakia and Tartus. While these are major concessions, issues involving Ukraine/Crimea must also be part of the discussion, as well as Libya. The bottom line in the trade-offs must be Russia’s commitment to help in getting Iran, Hezbollah and Shiite militias out of what formerly was Syria.

Turkey also may be helpful in the overall realignment but must be managed carefully, as Turkey under Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP (Justice and Development Party) is moving toward an authoritarian neo-Ottoman jihad state. Clearly, the No. 1 Turkish concern is the Kurds. One option may be to not allow the Kurdish northern-Syria enclave “Rojava” to extend to the Turkish border. There would instead be a safe zone there, guaranteed jointly by Russia and Turkey. Gas and oil pipelines also are major factors that must be included in discussions with both Russia and Turkey.

Since we have no vital objectives in Afghanistan, we should stop wasting our national treasure to support a corrupt tribal society.

If this new strategic approach is followed, our vital core strategic objectives will most likely stand a better chance of being achieved while gradually bringing the current chaos under control.

• James A. Lyons, a retired U.S. Navy admiral, was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations. Clare Lopez is vice president for research and analysis at the Center for Security Policy.

Trump Administration Intel – White Hats Confer With Reform Agents Within Political Islam…

The Last Refuge,  by sundance:

To understand the activity within any intelligence action any observer must do two things:

  • #1 You must stay elevated. If you try to get into the weeds you will be lost because your insight will be lacking specificity briefs.
  • #2 You must always reflect upon the recent historic context of the engagement you are observing. Including, most importantly, the engagements of the parties therein.

The recent example of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Mike Pompeo traveling to Saudi Arabia last weekend, at the request of President Donald Trump, to personally present Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef with an award named after former CIA director George Tenet, is an example of the need for this approach.

pompeo-and-crown-prince

If you want to understand what’s going on, you must understand the recent relationship of the parties.  It begins with understanding modern political Islam.

Within “political Islam” there are various factions. However, again with the intent to remain elevated, let us just approach two larger congregations as: “Authentic supporters” and “Reform Agents”.

sisi

The modern extremist elements fall under the category of “Authentic Supporters” or Salafists (politically, The Muslim Brotherhood).   The “Reform Agents” are represented by people like Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Jordan’s King Abdullah III.

Within “Political Islam” these two elements (Authentic -vs- Reform) are fighting for the heart, soul, intellect and -in larger measures- the future of Islam in a modern world.

All the various Muslim factions fall along a continuum of authenticity to the principles of Islam. The more authentic the expression, the more violent and confrontational the group. The more moderate the expression, the reformers, the less violent… etc.

Over the course of the past decade each political side has surged and/or retreated during the larger struggle for the heart of those who adhere to the Muslim faith. The so-called “Arab Spring” was a surge of the Authentic group, and was empowered/emboldened by the foreign policy activity of exterior nations. In particular, the ideological sympathy of former President Barack Obama.

In the face of the growth of the various Authentic expressions, the Reform elements were in a retreating position attempting to contain the internal damage being carried out by the extremist groups. Reformers and more moderate voices were simply trying to hold on to the construct of a civil society amid the growing crisis created by emotional demands of extremists requiring adherence to Sharia, the authentic political law of Islam.

On January 19th 2015, three days before Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz died from a lung infection, Egypt’s President Fattah al-Sisi was urgently summoned to met with him.

It was only a few weeks earlier (New Years Day 2015) when al-Sisi delivered an impassioned speech to a scholarly audience in Al-Azhar University in Cairo comprised of Islam’s most important religious leaders.

As the most notable and visible reformer (<- important link) President Fattah al-Sisi made the case for “a religious revolution in Islam that would displace violent jihad from the center of Muslim discourse“:

“The corpus of texts and ideas that we have made sacred over the years, to the point that departing from them has become almost impossible, is antagonizing the entire world. You cannot feel it if you remain trapped within this mindset. You must step outside yourselves and reflect on it from a more enlightened perspective.” –LINK

el-sisi-in-saudiPresident al-Sisi’s visit to Saudi Arabia to visit with King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz was a meeting specifically requested by an aging 90-year-old Saudi King to recognize Sisi for his courage and leadership.

King Abdulaziz was intent on honoring his friend.

Saudi Arabia had been coping with the same internal conflict as all other Muslim nations who were caught between the internal struggle.

President Sisi left Saudi Arabia with the full support of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, and upon his death a few days later the new Saudi King Salman; who  honored Sisi in a similar fashion as did his brother.

With the support of Saudi Arabia, the demands of al-Sisi to remove the extremism of the Muslim Brotherhood gained traction. The Gulf States finally, and collectively, pressured Qatar to stop aiding/financing extremism.

Under pressure Qatar conceded and expelled The Brotherhood along with the five leading voices of leadership within the Muslim Brotherhood. Recep Erdogan gave them refuge in Turkey.

This was the origin of the turning tide, when the Reform Agents began to stabilize and reassert their politics and internal domestic economies – the underlying wedge issue used by The Brotherhood to stir turmoil.

Unstable Yemen is to Saudi Arabia -> as unstable Libya is to Egypt -> as unstable Syria is to Jordan… and so it goes.

Each unstable nation being stirred by the extremist voices of various agents operating under the umbrella of the destabilizing politics expressed by The Muslim Brotherhood.

Remove the destabilizing agents and the Reformers believe they will be able to stop the extremists. This is the longer-term objective of those within the fight inside political Islam.

Now look again at the nations of Trump’s visa restrictions and you’ll note the presence of the destabilizing agents: Libya, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Iran [and Sudan, Somalia].

This is the necessary backdrop to understand events as they unfold and relate to President Donald Trump and his own foreign policy objectives and engagements.

It is not accidental that newly appointed CIA Director Mike Pompeo traveled to meet with Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Muhammad bin Nayef, after a phone call between Saudi King Salman and President Trump took place.

trump4

Director Pompeo’s visit was to recognize the efforts of Saudi Arabia in the larger fight against Islamic extremism/terrorism.  However, based on internal consumption, Pompeo could not be seen publicly in this regard with King Salman himself.  The visible face of Saudi Reform is the crown prince.

  • Jan 20th – President Trump takes office.
  • Jan 26th – President Trump has a phone call with King Salman
  • Jan 26th – On the same day, State Dept. Nominee Rex Tillerson visits State Dept. HQ and the media report on the resignation of many existing State Department personnel.
  • Feb 1st – Secretary Rex Tillerson is confirmed by the Senate.
  • Feb 2nd – The three Muslim Awan brothers are terminated amid accusations they accessed congressional intelligence committee computers without permission.
  • Feb 8th – FOX reports administration considering labeling The Muslim Brotherhood as an official terrorist organization.
  • Feb 11th – CIA Director Pompeo travels to Saudi Arabia to deliver thanks.

By all appearances it seems the Trump administration was given a head’s up of sorts as to specific [Muslim Brotherhood] agents within the U.S. State Department. And also with key Democrat staffers, in highly sensitive intelligence positions, amid Congress.

Additionally:

To wit, Egyptian media announce that Fattah el-Sisi will be traveling to Washington DC to meet with President Trump:

[…]  Informed sources said that the presidency is currently coordinating with the US to arrange a visit next month. The sources referred to the visit as the first official one for an Egyptian president to Washington since 2009, as the last visit since then was paid by former President Hosni Mubarak.

Meanwhile, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu will leave Washington next Monday going back to Tel Aviv. Israeli TV reported on Sunday that Netanyahu is planning to form the ‘Israeli-Saudi-Egyptian’ axis.  (read more)

It is ironic, but not coincidental, that no official Egyptian delegation has visited the United States since President Obama traveled to Cairo and started “The Islamist Spring” which led to the uprising of the Muslim Brotherhood extremism in Egypt.

dawn-of-the-muslim-brotherhood

Irony, because now the Trump administration is facing the internal extremist purging of the Muslim Brotherhood embeds remaining within the U.S. government leftover from President Obama’s aftermath…. and now, President Fattah el-Sisi, the destroyer of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt comes to officially visit President Trump in Washington.

I hope everyone can clearly see what’s going on in the bigger picture.

After eight years of Obama’s intense political embedding of extremist sympathy in every aspect of governance, and culture – President Trump is now tasked with removing it, all of it; and finding allies amid those who have already mounted the same effort.

sisi-trump

It is also important to remember the political enterprise of The Muslim Brotherhood not only employs congressional staffers, but also has key connections to elected officials within both parties.   Representative Adam Kinzinger and John McCain are two of the more obvious sympathizers on the right side of the UniParty.

Again, reference the seven states of turmoil/concern and you’ll notice a pattern:

Senator John McCain and Senator John Kerry in Cairo, Egypt – 2011

john-mccain-and-john-kerry-in-cairo-on-sunday-egypt-stock-exchange

What came next?…  The installation of the Muslim Brotherhood:

morsi-kerry

Senator John McCain and Ambassador Christopher Stephens, Benghazi Libya 2012

mccainbenghazicourthouse

What came next?…. The rise of the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood

alqaedaoverbenghazi

Senator John McCain travels to Syria in 2013

john-mccain-isis

What came next?  Yup, you guessed it – Muslim Brotherhood (via ISIS)

Isis soldiers in Syria

 

The Mirage of the Mid-East ‘Moderate Alliance’

Foreign ministers of the Arab League take part in an emergency meeting at the league's headquarters in Cairo September 7. (photo credit:REUTERS)

Foreign ministers of the Arab League take part in an emergency meeting at the league’s headquarters in Cairo September 7. (photo credit:REUTERS)

Jerusalem Post, by Jonathan Spyer, February 3, 2017:

In recent years, it has become customary in much analysis of the Middle East emerging from Israel to divide Middle Eastern countries into a series of alliances or ‘camps.’  These camps are identified in a variety of ways.  But the most usual depiction notes a tight, hierarchical bloc of states and movements dominated by the Islamic Republic of Iran.  An alliance of ‘moderate’ states opposed to Iran and including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, United Arab Emirates and Israel itself is seen as the principal adversary and barrier to the hegemonic ambitions of the Iran-led bloc.  Some depictions also posit the existence of a smaller alliance of states and entities associated with Muslim Brotherhood-style Sunni political Islam (Qatar, Turkey, the Hamas enclave in Gaza).  The picture is then completed with the addition of the rival Salafi Islamist regional networks of al-Qaeda and Islamic State.

This picture is pleasing to the eye both in its coherence and elegant simplicity. It posits a powerful regional alliance of which Israel is seen as a member.  It is much more questionable, however, whether it conforms to reality.

Specifically, while the bloc led by Iran and the transnational networks of the Salafi jihadis are certainly observable, it is far more doubtful if anything resembling an alliance of ‘moderate’ states really exists at all.

Iran stands at the head of an alliance, which has made significant gains across the region over the last half decade.  Its Lebanese client Hizballah is increasingly absorbing the institutions of the Lebanese state.  Its clients in Yemen (the Ansar Allah movement or ‘Houthis’) control the capital and a large swathe of the country.  Bashar Assad of Syria is no longer in danger of being overthrown and now dominates the main cities and coastline of his country, as well as the majority of its population.  In Iraq, the Shia militias of the Hashd al-Shaabi are emerging as a key political and military player.

The Iranian alliance is characterized by a pyramid-type structure, with Iran itself at the top.  In the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Teheran has an agency perfectly suited for the management of this bloc.  As the Syrian war has shown, Teheran is able to muster proxies and clients from across the region and as far afield as Afghanistan and Pakistan, in order to deploy them in support of a beleaguered member of its team.  This is what an alliance looks like.

By contrast, the so-called moderate bloc in fact consists of countries who disagree bitterly on important issues, while agreeing on some others.

Observe:  Saudi Arabia was the first country to express support for the military coup in Egypt on July 3, 2013.  The friendship between Cairo and Riyadh looked set to form a new Sunni Arab bulwark against both the Iranian advance and the ambitions of Sunni radical political Islam.  That is not the way it has turned out.     On a number of key regional files, the two are now on opposite sides.

In Syria, Saudi Arabia was and remains among the key supporters of the rebellion. The Assad regime, as a client of Iran, was a natural enemy for the Saudis.  The Egyptians, however, saw and see the Syrian war entirely differently –  as a battle between a strong, military regime and a rebellion based on Sunni political Islam. In November, 2016, President Sisi said that Assad’s forces were Syrian government forces were “best positioned to combat terrorism and restore stability” in the country.  Sisi identified this stance as part of a broader strategy according to which ‘“Our priority is to support national armies…and deal with extremist elements. The same with Syria and Iraq.’

This places Egypt and Saudi Arabia, supposedly the twin anchors of the ‘moderate’ bloc at loggerheads in two key areas.  In Libya, in line with this orientation, too, Egypt fully supports General Khalifa Haftar and his forces.  Saudi Arabia, by contrast, is largely indifferent to events in that area.

In Yemen, meanwhile, the Egyptians have offered only half hearted support to Saudi Arabia’s war effort against the Houthis.

This, in turn, relates to a further key difference between the two – regarding relations with Iran.

While the Saudis see the Iran-led regional bloc as the key regional threat to their interests, the Egyptians are drawing closer to Teheran.  The two countries have not had full diplomatic relations since 1980.  But the Iranians acknowledged their common stance on Syria, when Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif specifically requested of John Kerry to invite Egypt to send a delegation to talks on Syria in the Swiss city of Lausanne on October 15, 2016.  In the same month, to the Saudis’ fury, Cairo voted for a Russian backed UN Security Council resolution allowing the continuation of the bombing of rebel held eastern Aleppo.

In turn, when Saudi oil giant Aramco announced the cessation of fuel transfers to Egypt, Sisi declared that ‘“Egypt would not bow to anyone but God,’ and the government of Iraq agreed to step in to make good the shortfall, at the request of Iran and Russia.

So the core Egyptian-Saudi alliance is fraying.

Israel views its chief concerns as Iranian expansionism and Sunni political Islam, Egypt is concerned only with the latter of these.  Saudi Arabia meanwhile, is increasingly concerned only with the former.  Representatives of King Salman Bin Abdul-Aziz met late last year with officials of the Muslim Brotherhood in Istanbul, London and Riyadh.  On the agenda was the possible removal of the Brotherhood – Egypt’s key enemy – from Saudi Arabia’s list of terror organizations.  King Salman has taken a far more forgiving view of Sunni political Islam than his predecessor, King Abdullah.  This in turn has led to Saudi rapprochement with Turkey.

Thus, the three main corners of the ‘moderate’ alliance are drifting in different directions – Riyadh appears headed toward rapprochement with political Islam while maintaining opposition to Iran, Egypt toward Russia, Syria, Iraq and a stance of support for strong states.  Israel will seek to maintain good relations with each (and with smaller players in the ‘alliance’ such as Jordan and the UAE), on the basis of undoubted areas of shared interest and concern.  But any notion of a united bloc of western aligned countries standing as a wall against Iranian and Sunni Islamist advancement is today little more than a mirage.

What might change this would be the return of the superpower that was once the patron of all three countries – the United States.  Alliances work when they have leaders.  Only Washington could-re-fashion the disparate enemies of Iran and Sunni political Islam once more into a coherent unit.  It remains to be seen if the Trump Administration is interested in playing this role.

Clinton and Trump offer diverse ME scenarios

foreign-policy

DEBKAfile Exclusive Analysis November 1, 2016:

Whoever is elected US president on Nov. 8, he or she will land in the middle of a foreign policy shambles and face a pressing need to rebuild America’s fences in most parts of the world, including the war-ridden, messy Middle East. The Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and her Republican rival Donald Trump, whose approaches are so different in every respect, will both find it impossible to isolate America from the Middle East

DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence experts postulate divergent developments in response to the alternative results of the Nov. 8 presidential election, depending on the winner.

If it is Hillary Clinton, then –

  • Russia will deepen its expansion in the region, including in Syria and Iraq. The Russian naval units speeding to the Mediterranean at this moment are part of Moscow’s ramped up deployment in readiness for Clinton’s entry to the White House.
  • Vladimir Putin will not forgive the Democratic candidate in a hurry for her anti-Russian campaign gimmicks of depicting Donald Trump as his friend and alleging that Russian intelligence hacked DNC emails to turn the race against her.
    The Russian leader is not the forgiving sort when it comes to his reputation – and still less so when Russian intelligence, his alma mater, is impugned.
  • The high tensions expected to prevail between the Kremlin and the Clinton White House may well ignite a limited military conflagration between US and Russian forces in the Middle East.
  • Syrian rebels are counting on Clinton giving them arms and funds – in contrast to Barack Obama, and are therefore tenaciously holding out, despite their inferior resources against Russian-backed Syrian and pro-Iranian forces. They see her focusing on Bashar Assad’s ouster and, even more, on empowering the rebels to hamper Russia’s military designs in Syria. In this, she will find support from her friends in the Gulf emirates. The Syrian opposition believes that the sharper the tensions between Washington and Moscow, the better for their cause.
  • Clinton has a dilemma with regard to Iran. As co-author of the nuclear deal, she will also try to improve relations with Tehran. But by doing so, she risks alienating her friends, the Arab Gulf leaders.
  • She will soon discover that Iran’s rulers and military chiefs have no wish to cozy up to Washington, certainly not at the expense of their highly profitable ties with Moscow and Beijing.
  •  Clinton will no doubt try to repair the damage to US relations with Israel that piled up during Obama’s term of office.

If it is Donald Trump, then –

  • He will go for a US-Russian summit with Vladimir Putin to lay out a new world power order for the distribution of spheres of influence in different world regions, including the Middle East. He may make the summit trilateral by inviting Xi Jinping of China.
  • This summit will also seek economic understandings, a prospect which is already unnerving international markets. Trump will ask the Russian and Chinese leaders to share wholly or partly in the plans he put before the voter for strengthening the American economy.
  • The Republican candidate has said repeatedly that he would be glad to leave the war on ISIS in the Middle East to Putin and Tehran. In any case, his military advisers, led by Ret. Army Gen. Mike Flynn, perceive Moscow as already in control of the current military situation in consequence of Obama’s policies.
  • This policy however will put the Trump administration at odds with the Arab world, the Gulf emirates and Israel, all of which fear Iran’s continued drive for expansion across the Middle East under a supportive Russian umbrella.
  • He may try to compensate for this lack of equilibrium by taking a strong line against Tehran – even revoking the nuclear deal, which the outgoing president saw as his crowning foreign policy achievement. This could spark a US-Iranian showdown in the Gulf region. On the other hand, Iran is perfectly capable of dumping the nuclear accord on its own initiative.
  • During Trump’s first year as president, the traditional US-Saudi partnership for political, military and economic policies may start crumbling – especial on oil pricing. This alliance between the royal house of Saud and the US dates from the first encounter between President Franklin Roosevelt and King Ibn Saud 71 years ago. DEBKAfile’s Saudi experts estimate that after some initial rough patches, Donald Trump and King Salman will be able to find common ground and so put relations on a firmer footing than before. This would repair the discord with Riyadh engendered by the Obama administration and during Clinton’s term as Secretary of State.
  • Trump will endeavor to improve ties with Israel. In so doing, he will try and contain Binyamin Netanyahu’s ongoing understandings with Putin on the Middle East.

Analysis: A new crack in the Sunni bloc?

showimage-3The vacuum left by America’s disengagement has thrown the Middle East into a dangerous state of instability, wherein extremist groups thrive and thwart any hopes for peace.

By Zvi Mazel, JPOST, October 16, 2016

There seems to be a growing rift between Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the twin mainstays of the Sunni front against the major threats of Iran’s terrorist operations and nuclear building on the one hand, and against the rogue Sunni Islamic State on the other. The two countries no longer see eye to eye on a number of regional issues, although they deny it and insist that they are still coordinating their actions.

The Egyptian president has stated on a number of occasions that the security of the Gulf is essential to the security of his country, while the Saudi king wrote to Abdel Fattah al-Sisi that any attack on Egyptian security would be seen as an attack on Saudi Arabia.

Simmering tensions came to the boil at a special meeting of the UN Security Council on Syria on October 8.

Egypt not only voted with Russia to defeat the French proposal calling for a stop to bombing on Aleppo, it also voted for the Russian counter-proposal opposed by the West. The Saudi representative strongly condemned the two votes, which led to a spate of acrimonious articles in Egyptian and Saudi media. Sisi had to intervene; he declared that though Egypt remained committed to good relations with Gulf countries, it had its own interests.

The so-called pragmatic Sunni bloc, which included the Gulf states, Jordan and Morocco, emerged during the Mubarak years, and enjoyed the powerful support of the United States. Israel played a significant role behind the scenes, because the Gulf states and Egypt believed that it would be able to pressure Washington into stopping Iran’s nuclear program, while at the same time hoping that Israel might bomb Iran’s nuclear installations and deliver the region from that threat.

Barack Obama’s gradual disengagement from the Middle East, while favoring Shi’ite Iran over Sunni countries, was a game changer. America jettisoned Mubarak, its long-term ally, and welcomed the Muslim Brotherhood; it turned its back on President Sisi and made a deal with Iran on its nuclear program.

Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states felt betrayed and lost their trust in the United States, while Egypt, losing political, economic and military American support, turned to Russia and China for sophisticated weaponry and to develop economic projects – including building a nuclear plant to produce energy with the help of Russia. The Russian and Egyptian armies are conducting joint exercises, further testimony to the deepening ties.

In short, deprived of the strong American backing which was the basis of their common policy, Egypt and Saudi Arabia took different paths based on their divergent interests. Egypt, fearing an Islamic takeover, believes Syrian unity must be preserved at all costs, and aligned itself with Russia with regards to Syria, whose goals are similar to those of Iran, which wants President Basher Assad to remain in place in order to ensure its continued access to its Hezbollah ally in Lebanon through Syria.

Riyadh is steadfastly supporting Sunni rebel groups fighting to eliminate Assad and set up a Sunni regime. These groups include Islamic terrorist organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood, and therein lies the crux of the problem. The Brotherhood is still manufacturing terrorism in Egypt, presenting a very real threat and hampering the country’s economic development. As to Saudi Arabia, although it expelled the Brothers following the 9/11 attacks in New York – 15 of 18 perpetrators being Saudi Muslim Brothers – and has declared that the Brotherhood is a terrorist organization, just as Egypt did, it is now in the uneasy position of forbidding its activities in the kingdom while supporting them abroad. In Yemen, it backs al-Islah, a “Reform” party which is an offshoot of the Brotherhood, against the Shi’ite Houthi rebels, in the hopes that they will rule the country after defeating the rebellion.

Egypt emphatically does not want that to happen. It reluctantly joined the Saudi-led coalition again the Houthis, but is not taking part in military operations beyond patrolling the entrance to the Suez Canal, which is in its own interests. The situation regarding Libya is similar. Egypt backs Gen. Khalifa Belqasim Haftar, who is battling extremist groups with great success, while Saudi Arabia helps Brotherhood organizations.

In short, for Egypt, the most pressing threat is that of the Muslim Brothers, which enjoy the support of Turkey and Qatar. Saudi Arabia is more afraid of Iran, and therefore reluctantly allies itself with Sunni terrorist organizations it abhors. It has even grown closer to Turkey, a country at odds with Egypt over the removal of Morsi and the overthrow of the regime of the Brotherhood.

Sometimes logic goes overboard: Sunni Egypt and Sunni Saudi Arabia should have been united in condemnation of the relentless bombing of Aleppo by Russian and Syrian planes, driving the Sunni population out of the town with the intent to replace them with Alawites – but Egypt voted against the French resolution to end the bombing.

On the other hand, Saudi Arabia has given Egypt $15 billion in outright grants, loans or deposits into Cairo’s central bank, in order to bolster the Egyptian economy and currency, and has supplied Egypt with natural gas and oil. Both countries will try to overcome their differences, but it will not be easy. Riyadh is sending conflicting signals. It suspended regular deliveries of refined oil in spite of the 25 year contract signed in May, estimated at $23b.; it also significantly raised the price of visas for the pilgrimage to Mecca.

On the other hand, it deposited $2b. into Egyptian banks in September to bolster the Egyptian currency. A high-ranking Egyptian delegation is soon expected in Riyadh to “discuss regional issues and the implementation of the cooperation agreements signed in Cairo, during the visit of King Salman in April,” as well as the Syrian issue. The Saudi ambassador to Egypt has been called home to prepare for the visit.

The vacuum left by America’s disengagement has thrown the Middle East into a dangerous state of instability, wherein extremist groups thrive and thwart any hopes for peace. The Sunni bloc is in disarray. It is every country for itself. This has led to a quiet strengthening of security and intelligence cooperation with Israel, and even greater economic exchanges. But this is kept under wraps. Neither President Sisi nor King Abdullah of Jordan dared attend Peres’s funeral, as this newfound collaboration does not bode well for the much-touted “regional solution” of the Palestinian issue.

The writer, a fellow of The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is a former ambassador to Romania, Egypt and Sweden.

Obama rolls dice on foreign policy in secretive presidential directive

obama3IPT, by Pete Hoekstra
Washington Examiner
October 3, 2016

The once-fledgling Islamic State would never evolve from its “junior varsity” status to the Islamic terrorist hegemon that it is today without the wisdom, guidance, and support of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, a highly secretive classified document reveals.

The Islamic State currently features 43 affiliates in 20 countries and continues to control Mosul, the second-largest city in Iraq. When Obama assumed office, ISIS attracted roughly 1,000 fighters and was referred to as al Qaida in Iraq, or the Islamic State of Iraq, as it was contained to one country.

Obama and Clinton in 2010 then outlined their new and untested approach to Middle East policy in the document titled Presidential Study Directive-11. In an op-ed dated March 6, 2011, David Ignatius with The Washington Post helpfully delves into PSD-11. He writes, “This is the president as global community organizer — a man who believes that change is inevitable and desirable, and that the United States must align itself with the new forces shaping the world.”

Obama then announced America’s new policy during a global apology tour that U.S. protocol in the Middle East and with the Muslim world would change dramatically.

The United Arab Emirates-based publication, Middle East Briefing, in an analysis of Freedom of Information Act documents and other sources, found that under PSD-11 the State Department would lead an effort to build “civil society” — particularly nongovernmental — organizations to alter the internal politics of targeted countries.

Under PSD-11, the Obama administration deliberately pivoted from a strategy that focused on maintaining stability in the Middle East to a strategy emphasizing U.S. support for regime change — regardless of the impact it might have on the region’s stability. That is why we have gone from a general state of stability in the region in 2009 to the Middle East chaos we have now. Officials did not concern themselves with questions over whether new regimes would be allies or foes of the U.S. – or U.S. intelligence agency warnings about the jihadist chaos such regime change might unleash. They chose to believe the few rosy sunglass analyses.

Ignatius referred to intelligence analysts who said at the time, “…Islamic extremists don’t seem to be hijacking the process of change.” He quotes one intelligence analyst who discounted the threat from the Muslim Brotherhood. The West had previously ostracized the movement over its violent tendencies.

Individuals who reviewed documents released under FOIA concluded that State believed “that the Muslim Brotherhood was a viable movement for the U.S. to support throughout North Africa and the Middle East.” As a result, “American diplomats intensified contacts with top Muslim Brotherhood leaders and gave active U.S. support to the organization’s drive for power in key nations like Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Syria…” It represented a major shift in decades long U.S. policy.

In the ensuing months, the Obama-Clinton administration then abandoned Iraq and prioritized promoting regime change in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Syria above stability in the Middle East. It engaged with the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaidaelements and other syndicates that it naively considered harmless and erroneously believed would foster democratic reforms.

Today the countries that America deserted or knocked over — Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Syria — are failed states. Tunisia remains a work in progress, and Egypt is slowly recovering from its disastrous experiment with Muslim Brotherhood leadership.

PSD-11 and the resulting decisions based upon it reshaped the Middle East substantially. Its flawed and naive analysis and the policies that sprang from it created conditions that fostered the rapid expansion of Islamist terror, specifically ISIS, and have sent the Middle East into barbaric turmoil.

The first principle enshrined in PSD-11 included Obama’s belief that this is “your revolution” which led America to abandon Iraq. Standing on the right side of history by switching sides and partnering with the Muslim Brotherhood underpinned his second major guiding principle.

The reported enshrinement of these two theoretical propositions in PSD-11 as a new national security strategy were dramatic reversals of longstanding bipartisan agreement among lawmakers.

The answer as to why ISIS gained power and influence, and why stability in the Middle East has disastrously deteriorated, does not require extensive analysis. As an official in the Obama White House indicated at the time, “It’s a roll of the dice, but it’s also a response to reality.” The Obama-Clinton administration gambled with America’s national security by embracing radical jihadists, and the world lost.

The approach as outlined by PSD-11 resulted in perhaps the greatest foreign policy catastrophe in the last 40 years. At least in Iraq the U.S. removed one of the world’s worst dictators in history, a man responsible for heinously murdering hundreds of thousands of his own people. There would be no such benefit derived from Obama and Clinton’s new strategy.

With PSD-11 the administration engaged with radical Islamists who predictably, rather than pursuing democratic reforms, took advantage of the opportunity to fundamentally transform the region and its threat environment back to the Middle Ages.

America flipped sides and the world is paying a huge price for a devastatingly naive miscalculation based upon little more than a “roll of the dice.”

It’s time to declassify and release PSD-11.

Glick: From Yemen to Turtle Bay

showimage-ashx_

Iran’s game is clear enough. It wishes to replace the US as the regional hegemon, at the US’s expense.

Truth Revolt, by Caroline Glick, October 14, 2016:

Off the coast of Yemen and at the UN Security Council we are seeing the strategic endgame of Barack Obama’s administration. And it isn’t pretty.

Since Sunday, Iran’s Houthi proxies in Yemen have attacked US naval craft three times in the Bab al-Mandab, the narrow straits at the mouth of the Red Sea. The Bab al-Mandab controls maritime traffic in the Red Sea, and ultimately controls the Suez Canal.

Whether the Iranians directed these assaults or simply green-lighted them is really beside the point. The point is that these are Iranian strikes on the US. The Houthis would never have exposed themselves to US military retaliation if they hadn’t been ordered to do so by their Iranian overlords.

The question is why has Iran chosen to open up an assault on the US? The simple answer is that Iran has challenged US power at the mouth of the Red Sea because it believes that doing so advances its strategic aims in the region.

Iran’s game is clear enough. It wishes to replace the US as the regional hegemon, at the US’s expense.

Since Obama entered office nearly eight years ago, Iran’s record in advancing its aims has been one of uninterrupted success.

Iran used the US withdrawal from Iraq as a means to exert its full control over the Iraqi government. It has used Obama’s strategic vertigo in Syria as a means to exert full control over the Assad regime and undertake the demographic transformation of Syria from a Sunni majority state to a Shi’ite plurality state.

In both cases, rather than oppose Iran’s power grabs, the Obama administration has welcomed them. As far as Obama is concerned, Iran is a partner, not an adversary.

Since like the US, Iran opposes al-Qaida and ISIS, Obama argues that the US has nothing to fear from the fact that Iranian-controlled Shiite militias are running the US-trained Iraqi military.

So, too, he has made clear that the US is content to stand by as the mullahs become the face of Syria.

In Yemen, the US position has been more ambivalent. In late 2014, Houthi rebel forces took over the capital city of Sanaa. In March 2015, the Saudis led a Sunni campaign to overthrow the Houthi government. In a bid to secure Saudi support for the nuclear agreement it was negotiating with the Iranians, the Obama administration agreed to support the Saudi campaign. To this end, the US military has provided intelligence, command and control guidance, and armaments to the Saudis.

Iran’s decision to openly assault US targets then amounts to a gamble on Tehran’s part that in the twilight of the Obama administration, the time is ripe to move in for the kill in Yemen. The Iranians are betting that at this point, with just three months to go in the White House, Obama will abandon the Saudis, and so transfer control over Arab oil to Iran.

For with the Strait of Hormuz on the one hand, and the Bab al-Mandab on the other, Iran will exercise effective control over all maritime oil flows from the Arab world.

It’s not a bad bet for the Iranians, given Obama’s consistent strategy in the Middle East.

Obama has never discussed that strategy.

Indeed, he has deliberately concealed it. But to understand the game he has been playing all along, the only thing you need to do listen to his foreign policy soul mate.

According to a New York Times profile published in May, Obama’s deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes is the president’s alter ego. The two men’s minds have “melded.”

Rhodes’s first foreign policy position came in the course of his work for former congressman Lee Hamilton.

In 2006, then-president George W. Bush appointed former secretary of state James Baker and Hamilton to lead the Iraq Study Group. Bush tasked the group with offering a new strategy for winning the war in Iraq. The group released its report in late 2006.

The Iraq Study Group’s report contained two basic recommendations. First, it called for the administration to abandon Iraq to the Iranians.

The group argued that due to Iran’s opposition to al-Qaida, the Iranians would fight al-Qaida for the US.

The report’s second recommendation related to Israel. Baker, Hamilton and their colleagues argued that after turning Iraq over to Iran, the US would have to appease its Sunni allies.

The US, the Iraq Study Group report argued, should simultaneously placate the Sunnis and convince the Iranians of its sincerity by sticking it to Israel. To this end, the US should pressure Israel to give the Golan Heights to Syria and give Judea and Samaria to the PLO.

Bush rejected the Iraq Study Group report. Instead he opted to win the war in Iraq by adopting the surge counterinsurgency strategy.

But once Bush was gone, and Rhodes’s intellectual twin replaced him, the Iraq Study Group recommendations became the unstated US strategy in the Middle East.

After taking office, Obama insisted that the US’s only enemy was al-Qaida. In 2014, Obama grudgingly expanded the list to include ISIS.

Obama has consistently justified empowering Iran in Iraq and Syria on the basis of this narrow definition of US enemies. Since Iran is also opposed to ISIS and al-Qaida, the US can leave the job of defeating them both to the Iranians, he has argued.

Obviously, Iran won’t do the US’s dirty work for free. So Obama has paid the mullahs off by giving them an open road to nuclear weapons through his nuclear deal, by abandoning sanctions against them, and by turning his back on their ballistic missile development.

Obama has also said nothing about the atrocities that Iranian-controlled militia have carried out against Sunnis in Iraq and has stopped operations against Hezbollah.

As for Israel, since his first days in office, Obama has been advancing the Iraq Study Group’s recommendations. His consistent, and ever escalating condemnations of Israel, his repeated moves to pick fights with Jerusalem are all of a piece with the group’s recommended course of action. And there is every reason to believe that Obama intends to make good on his threats to cause an open rupture in the US alliance with Israel in his final days in office.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s phone call with Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday night made this clear enough. In the course of their conversation, Netanyahu reportedly asked Kerry if Obama intended to enable an anti-Israel resolution to pass in the UN Security Council after the presidential election next month. By refusing to rule out the possibility, Kerry all but admitted that this is in fact Obama’s intention.

And this brings us back to Iran’s assaults on US ships along the coast of Yemen.

Early on Sunday morning, the US responded to the Houthi/Iranian missile assaults by attacking three radar stations in Houthi-controlled territory. The nature of the US moves gives credence to the fear that the US will surrender Yemen to Iran.

This is so for three reasons. First, the administration did not allow the USS Mason destroyer to respond to the sources of the missile attack against it immediately. Instead, the response was delayed until Obama himself could determine how best to “send a message.”

That is, he denied US forces the right to defend themselves.

Second, it is far from clear that destroying the radar stations will inhibit the Houthis/Iranians.

It is not apparent that radar stations are necessary for them to continue to assault US naval craft operating in the area.

Finally, the State Department responded to the attack by reaching out to the Houthis. In other words, the administration is continuing to view the Iranian proxy is a legitimate actor rather than an enemy despite its unprovoked missile assaults on the US Navy.

Then there is the New York Times’ position on Yemen.

The Times has repeatedly allowed the administration to use it as an advocate of policies the administration itself wishes to adopt. Last week for instance, the Times called for the US to turn on Israel at the Security Council.

On Tuesday, the Times published an editorial calling for the administration to end its military support for the Saudi campaign against the Houthis/Iran in Yemen.

Whereas the Iranian strategy makes sense, Obama’s strategy is nothing less than disastrous.

Although the Iraq Study Group, like Obama, is right that Iran also opposes ISIS, and to a degree, al-Qaida, they both ignored the hard reality that Iran also views the US as its enemy. Indeed, the regime’s entire identity is tied up in its hatred for the US and its strategic aim of destroying America.

Obama is not the only US president who has sought to convince the Iranians to abandon their hatred for America. Every president since 1979 has tried to convince the mullahs to abandon their hostility. And just like all of his predecessors, Obama has failed to convince them.

What distinguishes Obama from his predecessors is that he has based US policy on a deliberate denial of the basic reality of Iranian hostility. Not surprisingly, the Iranians have returned his favor by escalating their aggression against America.

The worst part about Obama’s strategy is that it is far from clear that his successor will be able to improve the situation.

If Hillary Clinton succeeds him, his successor is unlikely to even try. Not only has Clinton embraced Obama’s policies toward Iran.

Her senior advisers are almost all Obama administration alumni. Wendy Sherman, the leading candidate to serve as her secretary of state, was Obama’s chief negotiator with the Iranians.

If Donald Trump triumphs next month, assuming he wishes to reassert US power in the region, he won’t have an easy time undoing the damage that Obama has caused.

Time has not stood still as the US has engaged in strategic dementia. Not only has Iran been massively empowered, Russia has entered the Middle East as a strategic spoiler.

Moreover, since 2001, the US has spent more than a trillion dollars on its failed wars in the Middle East. That investment came in lieu of spending on weapons development. Today Russia’s S-400 anti-aircraft missiles in Syria reportedly neutralize the US’s air force.

US naval craft in the Bab al-Mandab have little means to defend themselves against missile strikes.

The US’s trillion-dollar investment in the F-35 fighter jet has tethered its air wings to a plane that has yet to prove its capabilities, and may never live up to expectations.

Israel is justifiably worried about the implications of Obama’s intention to harm it at the UN.

But the harm Israel will absorb at the UN is nothing in comparison to the long-term damage that Obama’s embrace of the Iraq Study Group’s disastrous strategic framework has and will continue to cause Israel, the US and the entire Middle East.

 

White House wants to add new racial category for Middle Eastern people

(Photo: Paul Sancya, AP)

(Photo: Paul Sancya, AP)

USA Today, by Gregory Korte, October 2, 2016:

WASHINGTON — The White House is putting forward a proposal to add a new racial category for people from the Middle East and North Africa under what would be the biggest realignment of federal racial definitions in decades.

If approved, the new designation could appear on census forms in 2020 and could have far-reaching implications for racial identity, anti-discrimination laws and health research.

Under current law, people from the Middle East are considered white, the legacy of century-old court rulings in which Syrian Americans argued that they should not be considered Asian — because that designation would deny them citizenship under the1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. But scholars and community leaders say more and more people with their roots in the Middle East find themselves caught between white, black and Asian classifications that don’t fully reflect their identities.

“What it does is it helps these communities feel less invisible,” said Helen Samhan of the Arab American Institute, which has been advocating the change for more than 30 years. “It’s a good step, a positive step.”

On Friday, the White House Office of Management and Budget advanced the proposal with a notice in the Federal Register, seeking comments on whether to add Middle Eastern and North African as a separate racial or ethnic category, which groups would be included, and what it should be called.

Under the proposal, the new Middle East and North African designation — or MENA, as it’s called by population scholars — is broader in concept than Arab (an ethnicity) or Muslim (a religion). It would include anyone from a region of the world stretching from Morocco to Iran, and including Syrian and Coptic Christians, Israeli Jews and other religious minorities.

But the Census Bureau, which has been quietly studying the issue for two years, also has gotten caught up in debates about some groups — such as Turkish, Sudanese and Somali Americans — who aren’t included in that category. Those are issues the White House is trying to resolve before adding the box on 2020 census forms.

Adding a box on the census form could have implications beyond racial identity. According to the White House notice, the new data could be used for a wide range of political and policy purposes, including:

• Enforcing the Voting Rights Act and drawing congressional and state legislative district boundaries;

• Establishing federal affirmative action plans and evaluating claims of employment discrimination in employment in the private sector;

• Monitoring discrimination in housing, mortgage lending and credit;

• Enforcing school desegregation policies; and

• Helping minority-owned small businesses get federal grants and loans.

Adding the classification also would help the government and independent scholars understand more about trends in health, employment and education.

“We can’t even ask questions like that, because we don’t have the data,” said Germine Awad, an Egyptian-American and professor of educational psychology at the University of Texas at Austin.

The racial classifications have been unchanged since 1997, and Michigan’s congressional delegation has argued that they’re due for an update. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., said Friday the White House action was good news. Adding a MENA category, she said, would allow many of her Michigan constituents to “accurately identify themselves and access the employment, health, education and representation services that are based on census data.”

There are an estimated 3.6 million Arab-Americans in the United States, but that doesn’t include other ethnic groups that could put the total Middle Eastern and North African population above 10 million. According to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey — a survey conducted in between the 10-year census cycle based on a statistical sample — about 1 million people from the region are first-generation immigrants to the United States.

The proposed 2020 census form listing "Middle Eastern and North African" as an additional racial classification. (Photo: U.S. Census Bureau)

The proposed 2020 census form listing “Middle Eastern and North African” as an additional racial classification. (Photo: U.S. Census Bureau)

In the 2010 census, many Middle Easterners skipped the question entirely — an action some activists encouraged as a form of silent protest. “Check it right; you ain’t white,” went one campaign.

“You have individuals within this designation that would consider themselves white, and they certainly have a right to their identity. It’s not about identity in the psychological way. It’s about where would you fit the best on this form,” Awad said. “If you talk to anybody at the census, they’ll tell you that their job is not to help anybody with their racial or ethnic identity.”

And some, especially in the Muslim-Americancommunity, are also concerned about how the data might be used — especially given proposals by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump for a moratorium on Muslim immigrants and for increased surveillance of Muslim communities.

“It just aids and facilitates the state’s ability to know where these communities are in a very specific fashion,” said Khalid Beydoun, a law professor at the University of Detroit. “My inclination is to think that individuals who might identify might not check the box for fear of retribution — especially if Trump wins.”

But Beydoun, a naturalized citizen with Egyptian and Lebanese parents, said he still supports the proposal as an expression of Middle Eastern identity.

“In the grand scheme of things, it’s really a progressive stride forward,” he said. “But in the broader landscape, it’s taking place in the context of greater animus against Arab Americans, and really, Islamophobia.”

Comments on the proposal are due in 30 days, making it possible for the Obama administration to enact the change in the last three months of a presidency that has spent considerable effort to be more inclusive of Arab-Americans and other Middle Easterners.

“I think with him being the first African-American president and being an obvious example of making the American fabric more diverse, that this could be  great sign of inclusion about what it means to be an American,” Awad said.

Also see:

After Islamic State, Fears of a ‘Shiite Crescent’ in Mideast

Members of Shiite militias, known as Popular Mobilization Forces, parading in Baghdad in July. These groups have emerged as the most powerful military force in Iraq and exercise control over many “liberated” Sunni areas. PHOTO: HADI MIZBAN/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Members of Shiite militias, known as Popular Mobilization Forces, parading in Baghdad in July. These groups have emerged as the most powerful military force in Iraq and exercise control over many “liberated” Sunni areas. PHOTO: HADI MIZBAN/ASSOCIATED PRESS

The mullahs’ regime in Tehran is no less brutal, no less jihadi than the Islamic State – so why on earth should we of the West have anything to do w/propping up Tehran’s puppet regimes in Baghdad, Beirut or Damascus? Besides, bomb Raqqa into the ground tomorrow (not a bad idea!) & the global jihad would hardly skip a beat – that’s because jihad is wherever there is a cell, a community, or a network of faithful, devout Muslims obedient to shariah – and that means, already living among us. Jihad is upon us where we live now, not just ‘over there.’ – Clare Lopez

WSJ, by YAROSLAV TROFIMOV, Sept. 29, 2016:

From the point of view of Sunni Arab regimes anxious about Iran’s regional ambitions, Islamic State—as repellent as it is—provides a silver lining. The extremist group’s firewall blocks territorial contiguity between Iran and its Arab proxies in Syria and Lebanon.

This means that now, as Islamic State is losing more and more land to Iranian allies, these Sunni countries—particularly Saudi Arabia—face a potentially more dangerous challenge: a land corridor from Tehran to Beirut that would reinforce a more capable and no less implacable enemy.

Pro-Iranian Shiite militias such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Iraq’s Badr and Asaib Ahl al-Haq are filling the void left by Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, and they are much better equipped and trained than the Sunni extremist group. They are also just as hostile to the Saudi regime, openly talking about dismantling the kingdom and freeing Islam’s holy places from the House of Saud.

That rhetoric only intensified after January’s breakup in diplomatic ties between Riyadh and Tehran.

Many Western officials see these Shiite militias—which currently refrain from attacking Western targets—as an undoubtedly preferable alternative to Islamic State’s murderous rule, and some of the groups operating in Iraq indirectly coordinate with U.S. air power. But that isn’t how those militias are viewed in Riyadh and other Gulf capitals.

Abuses committed by Iranian proxies in Sunni areas are just as bad as those of Islamic State, argued Prince Turki al-Faisal, the former head of Saudi intelligence and a nephew of the current king.

“They are equally threatening, and one feeds off the other,” Prince Turki said in an interview. “Both of them are equally vicious, equally treacherous, and equally destructive.”

The West, he added, fundamentally misunderstood Iranian intentions in the region. “It’s wishful thinking that, if we try to embrace them, they may tango with us. That’s an illusion,” he said.

Fears over a “Shiite crescent” of Iranian influence in the Middle East aren’t new. They were first aired by Jordan’s King Abdullah a year after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq brought pro-Iranian politicians to power in Baghdad.

In the following years, the huge U.S. military presence in Iraq and the Sunni insurgency there kept Iranian power in check. Then, just as the U.S. withdrawal and the taming of the insurgency seemed to herald a new era of Iranian prominence in the region, the 2011 upheaval of the Arab Spring unleashed the Syrian civil war.

The dramatic rise of Islamic State that followed created a Britain-sized Sunni statelet in Syria and Iraq—and severed all land communications in the middle of that “Shiite crescent.”

“Prior to 2011, Iran already had overwhelming influence in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. So Iran has not significantly expanded its influence in the region, but rather it has been forced to provide military protection to pivotal allies it risked losing,” said Ali Vaez, Iran expert at the International Crisis Group. “If this has caused panic in Riyadh, it’s mainly because the Arab world is in a state of disarray.”

In both Syria and Iraq, however, Shiite militias controlled by Iran now play a far greater role than in 2011. Last month, Iraq ended the brief tenure of the first Saudi ambassador to the country since 2003, expelling him over his criticism of the Shiite militias. These groups, known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, have emerged as the most powerful military force in Iraq, and exercise control over many “liberated” Sunni areas.

In Syria, too, the survival of President Bashar al-Assad—allied with Iran but autonomous in many of his policies before 2011—has become impossible without the support of Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy that has grown into a regional military force. Other Shiite militias in Syria are staffed by Iranian, Afghan and Pakistani recruits.

“Iran’s power has spread further afield than before in terms of direct military power. We have never had so many Shiite militias operating in so many different areas, and fighting in traditional Sunni strongholds,” said Andrew Tabler, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

With Islamic State also under attack by U.S. airstrikes, Kurdish forces and a Turkish offensive, it’s possible that these Iranian proxies and allies would link up along the Iraq-Syrian border in coming months. The question is whether they would be able to hold that land and rule over the remaining Sunni populations without a degree of power-sharing—something that neither Baghdad nor Damascus seem ready for.

Absent that, it is likely that a new insurgency would bubble up soon in those areas—likely fomented by Sunni Arab states eager to break up the region’s “Shiite crescent” once again.

Saleh al-Mutlaq, a leading Sunni Iraqi politician and the country’s former deputy prime minister, warned that keeping the Sunnis disenfranchised would lead to precisely such an outcome.

“Unless you start thinking about the conditions that created ISIS in the first place and try to overcome these conditions,” he said in an interview, “there will be a new ISIS again, maybe of a different kind.”

Also see:

Islamic State: From nation-state to terror group

Army Gen. Joseph Votel, who took over the lead war-fighting command in March, told reporters at the Pentagon the ultraviolent jihadi group's capabilities have been greatly degraded and dismantled in Iraq and Syria, including significant loss of territory it once controlled. Recent military operations have cut off key supply lines and routes used by foreign fighters. (Associated Press)

Army Gen. Joseph Votel, who took over the lead war-fighting command in March, told reporters at the Pentagon the ultraviolent jihadi group’s capabilities have been greatly degraded and dismantled in Iraq and Syria, including significant loss of territory it once controlled. Recent military operations have cut off key supply lines and routes used by foreign fighters. (Associated Press)

 , August 31, 2016:

Battlefield successes against the Islamic State could force the group to shift away from nation-state status to a less visible terror threat, the commander of the U.S. Central Command said this week.

Army Gen. Joseph Votel, who took over the lead war-fighting command in March, told reporters at the Pentagon the ultraviolent jihadi group’s capabilities have been greatly degraded and dismantled in Iraq and Syria, including significant loss of territory it once controlled. Recent military operations have cut off key supply lines and routes used by foreign fighters.

“As you look across the full battle space, you see that [Islamic State] is under more pressure now than at any other time in the campaign,” Gen. Votel said Tuesday. “We are causing the enemy to have to look in multiple directions and they are struggling to respond under this pressure.”

The group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, remains a threat and is adapting to the attacks on its strongholds and the loss of territory. Also, external operations outside Iraq and Syria also are a concern, the general added.

In Iraq, Iraqi government forces are on track to retake the key northern city of Mosul by the end of the year or sooner, while the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa in Syria also may soon fall, Gen. Votel said.

“Certainly in both Iraq and Syria, in a lot of locations, we are continuing to target their leadership or continuing to target their revenue-generation sources in both Mosul and northern Iraq and certainly in Syria, so I think we continue to keep them on the horns of a dilemma here,” he said.

Two key setbacks for the Islamic State took place in northern Syria at the towns of Manbij and Jarabulus, forcing Islamic State forces to retreat quickly from those areas. The retreats took place despite calls by Islamic State leaders for the fighters to “fight to the death,” Gen. Votel said, adding that the group is being forced to choose to fortify other locations.

Once Mosul and Raqqa are taken, Gen. Votel said, the Islamic State could evolve away from being a nation-state and revert to being a more of covert terrorist organization without a geographic base.

“And so we should expect that as we come out of the big operations like Mosul and Raqqa and others here, that they will continue to adapt and we will continue to deal with the next evolution of ISIL, whether they become more of a terrorist organization and return to more of their terrorist-like roots,” he said, adding that U.S. and allied forces are anticipating a long fight against whatever emerges after the shift.

“I know I’m giving the impression that when we finish with Mosul or Raqqa that we’re done. We’re not. We will continue to deal with them,” he said.

***

NATO News: Aug. 30, 2016. CentralCom Commander, Gen. Votel Briefs Reporters at the Pentagon.

Also see:

What if Chaos Were Our Middle East Policy?

isis-caliphate

Front Page Magazine, by Daniel Greenfield, Aug. 31, 2016:

Sum up our failed Middle East policy in a nine-letter word starting with an S. Stability.

Stability is the heart and soul of nation-building. It’s the burden that responsible governments bear for the more irresponsible parts of the world. First you send experts to figure out what is destabilizing some hellhole whose prime exports are malaria, overpriced tourist knickknacks and beheadings. You teach the locals about democracy, tolerance and storing severed heads in Tupperware containers.

Then if that doesn’t work, you send in the military advisers to teach the local warlords-in-waiting how to better fight the local guerrillas and how to overthrow their own government in a military coup.

Finally, you send in the military. But this gets bloody, messy and expensive very fast.

So most of the time we dispatch sociologists to write reports to our diplomats explaining why people are killing each other in a region where they have been killing each other since time immemorial, and why it’s all our fault. Then we try to figure out how we can make them stop by being nicer to them.

The central assumption here is stability. We assume that stability is achievable and that it is good. The former is completely unproven and even the latter remains a somewhat shaky thesis.

The British wanted stability by replicating the monarchy across a series of Middle Eastern dependents. The vast majority of these survived for a shorter period than New Coke or skunk rock. Their last remnant is the King of Jordan, born to Princess Muna al-Hussein aka Antoinette Avril Gardiner of Suffolk, educated at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, and currently trying to stave off a Muslim Brotherhood-Palestinian uprising by building a billion dollar Star Trek theme park.

The British experiment in stabilizing the Middle East failed miserably. Within a decade the British government was forced to switch from backing the Egyptian assault on Israel to allying with the Jewish State in a failed bid to stop the Egyptian seizure of the Suez Canal.

The American experiment in trying to export our own form of government to Muslims didn’t work any better. The Middle East still has monarchies. It has only one democracy with free and open elections.

Israel.

Even Obama and Hillary’s Arab Spring was a perverted attempted to make stability happen by replacing the old Socialist dictators and their cronies with the political Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood. They abandoned it once the chaos rolled in and stability was nowhere to be found among all the corpses.

It might be time to admit that barring the return of the Ottoman Empire, stability won’t be coming to the Middle East any time soon. Exporting democracy didn’t work. Giving the Saudis a free hand to control our foreign policy didn’t work. Trying to force Israel to make concessions to Islamic terrorists didn’t work. And the old tyrants we backed are sand castles along a stormy shore.

Even without the Arab Spring, their days were as numbered as old King Farouk dying in exile in an Italian restaurant.

If stability isn’t achievable, maybe we should stop trying to achieve it. And stability may not even be any good.

Our two most successful bids in the Muslim world, one intentionally and the other unintentionally, succeeded by sowing chaos instead of trying to foster stability. We helped break the Soviet Union on a cheap budget in Afghanistan by feeding the chaos. And then we bled Iran and its terrorist allies in Syria and Iraq for around the price of a single bombing raid. Both of these actions had messy consequences.

But we seem to do better at pushing Mohammed Dumpty off the wall than at putting him back together again. If we can’t find the center of stability, maybe it’s time for us to embrace the chaos.

Embracing the chaos forces us to rethink our role in the world. Stability is an outdated model. It assumes that the world is moving toward unity. Fix the trouble spots and humanity will be ready for world government. Make sure everyone follows international law and we can all hum Lennon’s “Imagine”.

Not only is this a horrible dystopian vision of the future, it’s also a silly fantasy.

The UN is nothing but a clearinghouse for dictators. International law is meaningless outside of commercial disputes. The world isn’t moving toward unity, but to disunity. If even the EU can’t hold together, the notion of the Middle East becoming the good citizens of some global government is a fairy tale told by diplomats while tucking each other into bed in five-star hotels at international conferences.

It’s time to deal with the world as it is. And to ask what our objectives are.

Take stability off the table. Put it in a little box and bury it in an unmarked grave at Foggy Bottom. Forget about oil. If we can’t meet our own energy needs, we’ll be spending ten times as much on protecting the Saudis from everyone else and protecting everyone else from the Saudis.

Then we should ask what we really want to achieve in the Middle East.

We want to stop Islamic terrorists and governments from harming us. Trying to stabilize failed states and prop up or appease Islamic governments hasn’t worked. Maybe we ought to try destabilizing them.

There have been worse ideas. We’re still recovering from the last bunch.

To embrace chaos, we have to stop thinking defensively about stability and start thinking offensively about cultivating instability. A Muslim government that sponsors terrorism against us ought to know that it will get its own back in spades. Every Muslim terror group has its rivals and enemies waiting to pounce. The leverage is there. We just need to use it.

When the British and the French tried to shut down Nasser, Eisenhower protected him by threatening to collapse the British pound. What if we were willing to treat our Muslim “allies” who fill the treasuries of terror groups the way that we treat our non-Muslim allies who don’t even fly planes into the Pentagon?

We have spent the past few decades pressuring Israel to make deals with terrorists. What if we started pressuring Muslim countries in the same way to deal with their independence movements?

The counterarguments are obvious. Supply weapons and they end up in the hands of terror groups. But the Muslim world is already an open-air weapons market. If we don’t supply anything too high end, then all we’re doing is pouring gasoline on a forest fire. And buying the deaths of terrorists at bargain prices.

Terrorism does thrive in failed states. But the key point is that it thrives best when it is backed by successful ones. Would the chaos in Syria, Nigeria or Yemen be possible without the wealth and power of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Iran? Should we really fear unstable Muslim states or stable ones?

That is really the fundamental question that we must answer because it goes to the heart of the moderate Muslim paradox. Is it really the Jihadist who is most dangerous or his mainstream ally?

If we believe that the Saudis and Qataris are our allies and that political Islamists are moderates who can fuse Islam and democracy together, then the stability model makes sense. But when we recognize that there is no such thing as a moderate civilizational Jihad, then we are confronted with the fact that the real threat does not come from failed states or fractured terror groups, but from Islamic unity.

Once we accept that there is a clash of civilizations, chaos becomes a useful civilizational weapon.

Islamists have very effectively divided and conquered us, exploiting our rivalries and political quarrels, for their own gain. They have used our own political chaos, our freedoms and our differences, against us. It is time that we moved beyond a failed model of trying to unify the Muslim world under international law and started trying to divide it instead.

Chaos is the enemy of civilization. But we cannot bring our form of order, one based on cooperation and individual rights, to the Muslim world. And the only other order that can come is that of the Caliphate.

And chaos may be our best defense against the Caliphate.

How Donald Trump could fix Middle East

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks onstage during a campaign rally in Akron, Ohio, U.S., August 22, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks onstage during a campaign rally in Akron, Ohio, U.S., August 22, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Asia Times, by  David P. Goldman, Aug. 22, 2016:

The first step to finding a solution is to know that there’s a problem. Donald Trump understands that the Washington foreign-policy establishment caused the whole Middle Eastern mess. I will review the problem and speculate about what a Trump administration might do about it.

For the thousand years before 2007, when the Bush administration hand-picked Nouri al-Maliki to head Iraq’s first Shia-dominated government, Sunni Muslims had ruled Iraq. Maliki was vetted both by the CIA and by the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

With Iraq in the hands of an Iranian ally, the Sunnis–disarmed and marginalized by the dismissal of the Iraqi army–were caught between pro-Iranian regimes in both Iraq and Syria. Maliki, as Ken Silverstein reports in the New Republic, ran one of history’s most corrupt regimes, demanding among other things a 45% cut in foreign investment in Iraq. The Sunnis had no state to protect them, and it was a matter of simple logic that a Sunni leader eventually would propose a new state including the Sunni regions of Syria as well as Iraq. Sadly, the mantle of Sunni statehood fell on Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who projected not only an Islamic State but a new Caliphate as well. America had a dozen opportunities to preempt this but failed to do so.

From a fascinating defector’s account in the Foreign Policy website, we learn that the region’s jihadists debated the merits of remaining non-state actors on the al-Qaeda model versus attempting to form a state prior to the launch of ISIS. The defector reports a 2013 meeting in which al-Baghdadi demanded the allegiance of al-Qaeda (that is, al-Nusra Front) fighters in Syria:

Baghdadi also spoke about the creation of an Islamic state in Syria. It was important, he said, because Muslims needed to have a dawla, or state. Baghdadi wanted Muslims to have their own territory, from where they could work and eventually conquer the world….The participants differed greatly about the idea of creating a state in Syria. Throughout its existence, al-Qaeda had worked in the shadows as a non-state actor. It did not openly control any territory, instead committed acts of violence from undisclosed locations. Remaining a clandestine organization had a huge advantage: It was very difficult for the enemy to find, attack, or destroy them. But by creating a state, the jihadi leaders argued during the meeting, it would be extremely easy for the enemy to find and attack them….

Despite the hesitation of many, Baghdadi persisted. Creating and running a state was of paramount importance to him. Up to this point, jihadis ran around without controlling their own territory. Baghdadi argued for borders, a citizenry, institutions, and a functioning bureaucracy. Abu Ahmad summed up Baghdadi’s pitch: “If such an Islamic state could survive its initial phase, it was there to stay forever.”

Baghdadi prevailed, however, not only because he persuaded the al-Qaeda ragtag of his project, but because he won over a large number of officers from Saddam Hussein’s disbanded army. America had the opportunity to “de-Ba’athify” the Sunni-dominated Iraqi Army after the 2003 invasion, the way it de-Nazified the German Army after World War II. Instead, it hung them out to dry. Gen. Petraeus’ “surge” policy of 2007-2008 bought the Sunni’s temporary forbearance with hundreds of millions of dollars in handouts, but set the stage for a future Sunni insurgency, as I warned in 2010.

Trump is right to accuse the Bush administration of creating the mess, and also right to blame Obama for withdrawing American forces in 2011. Once the mess was made, the worst possible response was to do nothing about it (except, of course, to covertly arm “moderate Syrian rebels” with weapons from Libyan stockpiles, most of which found their way to al-Qaeda or ISIS).

Now the region is a self-perpetuating war of each against all. Iraq’s Shia militias, which replaced the feckless Iraqi army in fighting ISIS, are in reorganization under Iranian command on the model of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. The Kurds are fighting both ISIS and the Syrian government. ISIS is attacking both the Kurds, who field the most effective force opposing them in Syria, as well as the Turks, who are trying to limit the power of the Kurds. Saudi Arabia and Qatar continue to support the Sunnis of Iraq and Syria, which means in effect funding either ISIS or the al-Nusra Front.

Russia, meanwhile, is flying bombing missions in Syria from Iranian air bases. Apart from its inclination to bedevil the floundering United States, Russia has a dog in the fight: as a number of foreign officials who have spoken with the Russian president have told me, Putin has told anyone who asks that he backs the Iranian Shi’ites because all of Russia’s Muslims are Sunni. Russia fears that a jihadist regime in Iraq or Syria would metastasize into a strategic threat to Russia. That is just what al-Baghdadi had in mind, as the Foreign Policy defector story made clear:

Baghdadi had another persuasive argument: A state would offer a home to Muslims from all over the world. Because al-Qaeda had always lurked in the shadows, it was difficult for ordinary Muslims to sign up. But an Islamic state, Baghdadi argued, could attract thousands, even millions, of like-minded jihadis. It would be a magnet.

What Trump might do

What’s needed is a deal, and a deal-maker. I have no information about Trump’s thinking other than news reports, but here is a rough sketch of what he might do:

Read the rest

Also see:

John Bolton: Iran Deal ‘Worst Appeasement in American History’

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Breitbart, by Adelle Nazarian, Aug. 25, 2016:

LOS ANGELES, California — Former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton declared Sunday that the Iranian nuclear deal is the “worst act of appeasement in American history.” Bolton was speaking at the Luxe Hotel on Sunday for the American Freedom Alliance‘s conference, titled “Islam and Western Civilization: Can They Coexist?”

Bolton, who is also a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, elaborated on the threat that radical Islam and political Islam pose to the United States of America, Europe and the whole of Western civilization. In doing so, he explained the propaganda inherent in the term “Islamphobia,” and dismissed the “lone-wolf” concept of radical Islamic terrorism.

Bolton said there is plenty of evidence from western intelligence, among other sources, that the Iranian regime is violating the terms of the deal, otherwise known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. “I don’t think they ever intended to comply with its central provisions. They made minimal concessions to begin with and in exchange they got over $100 billion.”

Pressing further, Bolton criticized the recent ransom paid for American captives.He joked: “The good news is: each and every one of you is worth $100 million to the Obama Administration. The bad news is: Iran understands this.”

On a serious note, Bolton said: “All of our adversaries, and even our friends, are appalled by what they’ve seen. And the abandonment of our decades-long, bipartisan policy of not negotiating with terrorists. But it was all part of the nuclear deal.” He predicted there are many more surprises that will come up.

Bolton also explained that the “nature of the threat here is extraordinarily broad” and that “it has  been growing” because in the last eight years it has faced “no effective American opposition whatsoever.” That unfettered dynamic has resulted in a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. “Turkey and the Saudis and Egyptians, and likely other governments throughout the region, have also embarked on their own nuclear programs missions,” he said.

Regarding the threat of radical Islam, Bolton told the audience,  “I think it’s important to say, at the outset every time the subject comes up, that we are talking about politics and ideology here. This is not a question about religion. And those who say that ‘when you talk about radical Islam you are insulting Muslims all over the world,’ are simply engaged in propaganda.” Bolton added that these are “exactly Muslims, themselves, who have felt the worst effects of Islamic terrorism and who suffer under its rule in places as diverse as Iran and the caliphate that ISIS now holds.”

Bolton explained that individuals who do not wish to have a clear understanding of the true nature of radical Islam are “quick to obscure” it. “It’s a struggle for how the religion is perceived around the world,” Bolton noted.

He pointed out that Muslim leaders like King Abdullah of Jordan and Egypt’s President and former military general Abdel Fattah al-Sisi have called for a transformation within Islam, going so far as pointing out that this is a civil war that must be embraced and led by the people themselves.

He also lauded al-Sisi for being “courageous enough a couple of years ago to join the Coptic Christians in their celebration of Christmas and say ‘we are all Egyptians together,’ and thus putting a target on his own back with the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Bolton said that to suggest phrases like “lone-wolf terrorists and self-radicalized terrorists” when explaining these attacks is like comparing them with “spontaneous combustion: they were normal people one day and then the next day they became terrorists.” The West, he said, had failed “to understand the ideological nature of this war.”

Turning the spotlight onto President Barack Obama, Bolton said “the president says his objective is to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIS. The problem with his strategy is his first three words: ‘degrade and ultimately’. The answer to ISIS is to destroy it as rapidly as possible. The reason you want to do that is because every day that we delay allows ISIS to implement strategies in Europe.”

Bolton added: “Innocent civilians are at risk because of our unwillingness to take appropriate military action.”

Follow Adelle Nazarian on Twitter @AdelleNaz

From Vlad Tepes:

What’s the Plan for Winning the War?

iranian-nuclear-weaponDoes anyone in the administration recognize that we’re in one?

CounterJihad, Aug. 25, 2016:

Michael Ledeen makes a clever observation:

Everyone’s talking about “ransom,” but it’s virtually impossible to find anyone who’s trying to figure out how to win the world war we’re facing.  The two keystones of the enemy alliance are Iran and Russia, and the Obama administration, as always, has no will to resist their sorties, whether the Russians’ menacing moves against Ukraine, or the Iranians’ moves against us.

The moves are on the chessboard, sometimes kinetic and sometimes psychological warfare.  Like a chess game, we are in the early stages in which maneuver establishes the array of forces that will govern the rest of the game.  Russia’s deployment of air and naval forces to Syria stole a march on the Obama administration.  Its swaying of Turkey, which last year was downing Russian aircraft, is stealing another.  Its deployment of bombers and advanced strike aircraft to Iran is another.  That last appears to be in a state of renegotiation, as Ledeen notes, but that too is probably for show.  The Iranians have too much to gain in terms of security for their nuclear program, at least until they’ve had time to build their own air force.

Iran is making strategic moves as well.  Ledeen notes the “Shi’ite Freedom Army,” a kind of Iranian Foreign Legion that intends to field five divisions of between twenty and twenty-five thousand men each.  Overall command will belong to Quds Force commander Qassem Suliemani, currently a major figure in the assault on Mosul, having recovered from his injury in Syria commanding Iranian-backed militia in the war there.  The fact of his freedom of movement is itself a Russian-Iranian demonstration that they will not be governed by international law:  Suliemani is under international travel bans for his assassination plot against world diplomats, but was received in Moscow and now travels freely throughout the northern Middle East.

Turkey, meanwhile, has been effectively cut off by Iran’s and Russia’s success in the opening game of this global chess match.  As late as the Ottoman Empire, the Turks looked south through Iran and Iraq to power bases as far away as Arabia.  Now the Ayatollahs are going to control a crescent of territory from Afghanistan’s borders to the Levant, leaving the Turks locked out.  One might have expected the Turks to respond by doubling their sense of connection to Europe and NATO.  Instead, the purge following the alleged coup attempt is cementing an Islamist control that leaves the Turks looking toward a world from which they are largely separated by the power of this new Russian-Iranian alliance.  The Turks seem to be drifting toward joining that alliance because being a part of that alliance will preserve their ties to the Islamic world.

For now, the Obama administration seems blind to the fact that these moves are closing off America’s position in the Middle East.  This is not a new policy.  Eli Lake reports that the Obama administration told the CIA to sever its ties to Iranian opposition groups in order to avoid giving aid to the Green revolution.  Their negotiation of last year’s disastrous “Iran deal” has led to Iran testing new ballistic missiles and receiving major arms shipments from Russia.  Yet while all these moves keep being made around them, the Obama administration proceeds as if this were still just an attempt to crush the Islamic State (ISIS).  The commander of the XVIIIth Airborne Corps has been given a task that amounts to helping the Iranians win.  Our incoherent policy has left us on both sides in Syria.  Our only real ally in the conflict, the Kurds, stand abandoned by America.

Who is even thinking about how to win the war?  Will the legacy of the Obama administration be a shattered NATO, a Turkey drawn into Russia’s orbit, an Iranian hegemony over the northern Middle East, and a resurgent Russia?  It certainly looks to be shaping up that way.  Russia is playing chess while the US is playing whack-a-mole.  The absence of a coherent governing strategy is glaring.

The Turkey-Russia-Iran Axis

fr

Dramatic developments alter the strategic balance in the Middle East.

Front Page Magazine, by Kenneth R. Timmerman, Aug. 22, 2016:

A techtonic shift has occurred in the balance of power in the Middle East since the failed Turkish coup of mid-July, and virtually no one in Washington is paying attention to it.

Turkey and Iran are simultaneously moving toward Russia, while Russia is expanding its global military and strategic reach, all to the detriment of the United States and our allies. This will have a major impact across the region, potentially leaving U.S. ally Israel isolated to face a massive hostile alliance armed with nuclear weapons.

Believers in Bible prophecy see this new alignment as a step closer to the alliance mentioned in Ezekiel 37-38, which Israel ultimately defeated on the plains of Megiddo.

Today’s Israel, however, is doing its best to soften the blow by patching up relations with Turkey and through cooperation with Russia.

Here are some of the moves and countermoves that have been taking place in recent weeks on a giant three-dimensional chessboard with multiple players and opponents.

Russia-Turkey: It now appears that Russian intelligence tipped off Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan just hours before the planned coup against his regime. When the coup plotters got wind of the Russian communications with Erdogan loyalists at the National Intelligence Organization (MIT), they moved up the coup from the dead of night to 9 PM, when the streets were packed.

For Erdogan, the Russian warning came just in the nick of time, allowing him to flee his hotel in Marmaris minutes before twenty-five special forces troops loyal to the coup-plotters roped down from the roof of his hotel to seize him.

With streets in Istanbul full of people, Erdogan’s text and video messages calling on supporters to oppose the coup had maximum impact.

After purging the military and government of suspected enemies, Erdogan’s first foreign trip was to Russia, where on August 8 he thanked Putin for his help. “The Moscow-Ankara friendship axis will be restored,” he proclaimed.

Two days later, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu blasted NATO for its “evasive fashion” of responding to Turkish requests for military technology transfers, and opened the door to joint military production with Russia.

Cavosoglu accused NATO of considering Turkey and Russia “to be second class countries,” and pointed out that Turkey was the only NATO country that was refusing to impose sanctions on Russia for its annexation of the Crimea and invasion of Ukraine.

Russia has also been in talks with Turkey to base Russian warplanes at the NATO air base in Incirlik, Turkey, where some 2400 U.S. personnel have been quarantined since the failed July 15 coup attempt as Turkey continues to demand that the U.S. extradite alleged coup-plotter Fethullah Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania.

These talks have alarmed the Pentagon, which on Thursday reportedly ordered the emergency evacuation to Romania of the estimated 50-70 nuclear B-61 “dial-a-yield” gravity bombs stockpiled at the base.

If confirmed, the nuclear withdrawal from Turkey constitutes a major strategic setback for the United States, with Russia poised to replace the United States as Turkey’s main military partner after 60 years of NATO cooperation.

Russia-Iran: The warming of the Russia-Turkey relationship comes as Russia simultaneously is making advances in Iran.

The two countries have a long and often troubled history. The 1921 Soviet-Iranian treaty, which ended long-standing tsarist concessions in Iran, also included a mutual defense pact. Triggered briefly during World War II, the Soviets seized the opportunity to foment a Communist coup in Iranian Azerbaijan in 1948 and only withdrew after President Truman threatened to use nuclear weapons.

Successive Iranian regimes remained suspicious of Soviet intentions for the rest of the Cold War.

In recent years, Iran and Russia have joined together to evade international sanctions, with Russian banks clearing payments for Iranian oil purchases and serving as a conduit for Iranian government purchases abroad.

Last week, the specter of the 1921 defense treaty suddenly came alive when the Russia and Iran announced they had signed a new military agreement to allow Russian jets to use the Nojeh airbase in western Iran for attacks on Syrian rebels.

This is the first time that the Islamic regime in Iran has allowed a foreign power to use Iranian territory as a base for offensive military operations against another country in the region, and the move lead to tensions in the Iranian parliament.

For Russia, the move dramatically reduced flight times for the Tu-22M3 Backfire bombers it had been flying against ISIS targets in Syria from Mozdok airbase in Ossetia, 2000 km away. Iran’s Nojeh air base, outside Hamadan, is less than 900 km from the war zone.

The shorter flight times also meant shorter warning for the Syrian rebels. Russian media reports have alleged that the United States has been providing “satellite surveillance data” to the Syrian rebels of the Russian bombing runs, allowing them to disperse “suspiciously too often” before the heavy bombers arrived on target from Mozdok.

The shorter distance cuts the flight time – and thus the warning time – by 60%, according to former Pentagon official Stephen D. Bryen. “The flight from Iran is between 30 to 45 minutes tops. If, therefore, the US is warning the rebels of impending Russian air strikes, the time to get the message to them and to actually be able to move their forces out of harms way, is far less and maybe too short for finding effective cover,” Bryen wrote in a recent blogpost.

Conclusion: Russia is on the verge of realizing a multi-generational dream of reaching the “warm waters” of the Persian Gulf through Iran.

Iran-Iraq: Adding to these dramatic developments was the announcement last week by a U.S. military spokesman, Colonel Chris Garver, that Iran now controls a military force of 100,000 armed fighters in neighboring Iraq. While the United States has allowed this Iranian expansion under the pretext Iran was helping in the fight against ISIS, clearly Iran can use this massive organized force to exercise its control over Iraq as well.

While none of these events was directly caused by the United States, clearly the lack of U.S. leadership emboldened our enemies, whose leaders have a much clearer strategic vision than ours of where they want the region to go.

Meanwhile, the Russian government continues to pursue the massive ten-year, $650 billion military modernization program that Putin announced in December 2010, despite reduced oil revenues. Those plans include eight new nuclear submarines, 600 new fighter jets, 1000 helicopters, as well as new tanks and other ground equipment.

Most of the new equipment is based on new designs incorporating advanced technologies, not existing weapons systems.

Just this week, U.S. intelligence officials reported ongoing construction of “dozens’ of underground nuclear command bunkers in Moscow and around the country apparently for use in the event of a nuclear wear. General Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of U.S. European Command, called Russia’s evolving doctrine on the first use of nuclear weapons “alarming.”

All of this does not mean that the United States and Russia are headed toward a direct confrontation. The more likely consequence, given the sweeping Russian powerplay with Turkey and Iran, is that the United States will simply abandon the region to Putin’s Russia and his Turkish and Iranian allies.

The consequence of that abandon will undoubtedly motivate Saudi Arabia to develop nuclear weapons as a counterweight to Iran.

Nero fiddled as Rome burned. Obama plays golf. Both leaders will leave ashes in their wake.

Also see: