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U.S. Lacks Coherent Middle East Strategy

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By John Ubaldi
Contributor, In Homeland Security

The Middle East is in the midst of immense turmoil with the rise of the Islamic State and the power projection of Iran in the region, but equally disturbing is the lack of a coherent strategy by the United States.

Far too often the United States has gone from crisis to crisis first beginning with the Iranian “Green Movement” in response to the 2009 Iranian presidential election in which Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won a fraudulent election against his opponent Mir Hossein Mosusavi.

The Iranian people protested the rigged election which kept Ahmadinejad in power culminating in the largest demonstrations inside Iran since the 1978-79 Iranian revolution which brought the Islamic republic to power.

The United States was slow to respond and was left unsure of what course or direction to take. Now with this lack of a coherent strategy with these new developments metastasized even further in 2011 with the eruption of the “Arab Spring” movement throughout the Middle East.

With key long time Arab leaders removed from power such as Libyan dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the United States gave conflicting and instituted contradictory polices regarding the aftermath in each country and in the region.

This lack of clarity regarding a strategic political vision carried over into the crisis in the ongoing Syrian civil war and the aftermath of a precipitous U.S. withdrawal from Iraq led to the formation of the Islamic State to fill the vacuum.

The current situation in the Middle East has Iran projecting its influence into Lebanon, kept the Assad regime from collapsing in Syria, and has direct influence over the Shia dominated government in Iraq. Tehran has now extended its influence into Yemen, by backing the Youthis rebel group in its overthrow of that’s countries government sending the nation into civil war.

All the while the U.S. has alienated our Arab allies with our inconsistent strategy, which Washington has further exacerbated further with our pursuit of a nuclear deal with Iran.

The U.S. still hasn’t developed a coherent strategy to deal with the Islamic State even after the president sent to Congress his war authorization back in February, which is now stalled in Congress.

Many advocate an either or situation in the utilization of the military but an absence of a political strategy the use of the military without clearly defined political strategic goals will only make the situation worse.

Both the Obama and Bush administrations failed in their strategic understanding of the region by not understanding one the principles articulated by Clausewitz in his famous treatise “On War” that “War is nothing but a continuation of politics with the admixture of other means.”

Former CENTCOM Commander Retired Marine General Anthony Zinni stated, “This isn’t all about military fighting,” he said, not even mostly so. “You need political connections and economic connections to gain the trust of the people on the ground out there.”

Zinni continued his assessment of the situation by commenting, “Building alliances, building partnerships on a strong mutual aims basis is the key,” this is the one key the U.S. has had difficulties with as our policy have only alienated the very countries we need to confront the challenges in the region.

Edward Djerejian writing a report titled, “The Middle East Cauldron and United States Policy” for the Baker Institute for Public Policy added this is the long game in what is definitely a generational struggle. A successful effort also requires strong political will, and an understanding of the many political, social, economic, and historical forces at play in the region: The Arab Awakening; the Syrian crisis; the turmoil in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan; the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict; the growth of Islamic radicalism and terrorism; struggling economies and high unemployment in many parts of the region; human and women’s rights issues; and seriously restrained efforts at broadening political participation and pluralism in the region. These are the dots. If any U.S. administration tries to deal with these issues piecemeal, the chances for successful outcomes will be strongly diminished, as we have witnessed.

Engagement by the United States is crucial but only if the U.S. projects a coherent political strategy that embraces the complexities and nuances of the region. This has to include forming alliances and partnership with our allies who understand what we are trying to accomplish only then will they gain the trust of Washington and work with us instead of pursuing an alternate strategy as is the case right now.

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