By John Ubaldi
Contributor, In Homeland Security
Chaos has gripped the Middle East with both ISIS & Iran expanding their arc of influence throughout the region. The United States has pursued a conflicting and often unfocused strategy on how it plans on confronting both ISIS and Iran.
Last month President Barack Obama gave a nationally televised address to the nation where he is seeking military authorization to defeat and destroy ISIS. Since then his war authorization has stalled in Congress, and the president himself has not spoken out on the subject.
Without a comprehensive political strategy ISIS has been allowed to spread its influence around the Middle East.
Just last week, ISIS claimed responsibility for the deadly terror in Yemen and Tunisia, plus it welcomed the Nigerian terror group Boko Haram into its fold.
CNN reported that it came in the wake of the group’s rapid expansion across Libya, its assimilation of a powerful Egyptian terrorist group, and the founding of small chapters in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Algeria, where its new affiliate last year beheaded a French hiker.
Many from both parties are now questioning the scope of the president’s ISIS’s strategy. Congressional Democrat Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, (D-Hawaii) – herself a veteran of the conflict in Iraq – also has expressed misgiving about the presidents ISIS strategy.
“This is not something that can only be done militarily. Right alongside the military strategy, which must consist of working with our partners in the region, it must consist of working with the Sunnis and the Kurds, and really going to the heart of the sectarian conflict,” Gabbard said in a separate interview on “Face the Nation,” explaining that the sectarian divide in Iraq allows ISIS to strengthen its foothold there. “When we look at the continuation of the failed Bush policy, now in this administration, of propping up this Shia-led government in Baghdad that’s heavily influenced by Iran, this is what has provided a climate essentially, for ISIS to grow in Iraq.”
With ISIS spreading its influence throughout the Middle East and beyond, the U.S. also has to deal with Iran spreading its own power in the Middle East.
Because of the power vacuum left by the United States, Iran has been able to exert greater authority over the Shiite dominated government in Baghdad, and is heavily involved it the Iraqi military offensive to retake Tikrit, by utilizing Shia militia’s backed by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard “Quds Force.”
Iranian influence extends into Syria where President Bashar al-Assad has been allowed to remain in power, primarily with the financial and military backing by Tehran. This arc of influence extends into Lebanon, where Hezbollah, heavily backed by Iran, is the dominate power in that country.
Just last month, Houthi rebels backed by Iran, have overthrown the government in Yemen, sending that nation into a perpetual civil war. This has led the United States to remove all of its special operation and counter terrorism force leaving an intelligence vacuum to counter al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
In January, speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee, former USCENTCOM Commander General James Mattis testified that in dealing with Iran, the U.S. needs to have “the right policies in place when Iran creates more mischief in Lebanon, Iraq, Bahrain, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the region, recognizing that regional counterweights like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the rest of the Gulf Cooperation Council, can reinforce us if they understand our policies, and clarify our foreign policy goals beyond Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”
The problem with the statement made by General Mattis is that the administration gives conflicting messages, especially as it relates to Iran. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States fear Iran more than they do ISIS, and believe the United States will agree to any deal with Iran just to get an agreement, virtually throwing them under the bus.
Remarks by President Obama last December, when interviewed by NPR, stated that with an agreement with Iran on its nuclear program Tehran can be, “A very successful regional power that was also abiding by international norms and international rules, and that would be good for everybody.”
This statement alone sent shock waves through the capitals of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, as they are witnessing Iranian influence in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon, virtually surrounding them, plus the U.S. will allow Tehran to maintain its infrastructure on its pathway to nuclear weapons.
If they perceive that Iran benefited in the negotiations, then their only recourse is to obtain a nuclear device. Remember just last month, high ranking Pakistani officials visited the kingdom, and I am sure this was part of the discussions.
Do we really want a nuclear arms race in the Middle East?