Liberty Expose: The Once and Future Middle East
The defeat of the Islamic State will not bring a state of tranquility to the Middle East. Even before ISIS’ defeat on the battlefield, the forces that joined together to eliminate the Islamic State’s tyranny are now turning on one another. A more notable example is the conflict between the Iraqi government and Iraqi Kurds, the latter of which just voted for independence from the former. The Iraqi government launched a strike against Kurdistan, with Iraqi forces quickly taking the Kurdish-controlled city of Kirkuk, a major oil city. Much of the fighting is being done by US trained troops armed with US supplied weapons.
The Trump administration has taken steps to distance themselves from the fighting between Iraq and the Kurds, with President Trump stating “we don’t like the fact they’re clashing. W
e’re not taking sides.” The president went on to elaborate, “we’ve had for many years a very good relationship with the Kurds as you know and we’ve also been on the side of Iraq, even though we should have never been there in the first place. We should have never been there. But we’re not taking sides in the battle.”
President Trump did choose a side – and he chose the wrong one. By choosing not get involved in the conflict between two of America’s most important allies in the region, President Trump is playing right into the hands of Iran.
There is no nation the benefits more when Iraq attacks Kurdistan than Iran does. As covered in an earlier Globe article, Iran has made their intentions to crush an independent Kurdistan clear. Having a nation that will be allied to the US and not hostile towards Israel could be a strategic disaster for a nation determined on regional hegemony. And having a Kurdish state border Iran will provide a beacon of hope for Kurds and other minorities in Iran, and will increase the likelihood of civil insurrection. Another risk Iran can’t afford to accommodate.
With the threats Kurdistan presents, it makes sense that Iran should want an independent Kurdistan gone – but the situation between Iraq and the Kurds gets even more beneficial for the Islamic Republic. Having the Iraqi government close in on Kurdish areas gives Iran a greater chance to flex its influence over the Iraqi government.
Many of the Iraqi forces that fought ISIS and are now combatting the Kurds are in fact Shiite militias being supported by Iran. The fighting also allows the expansion of Quads Force – an Iranian special operations front that is responsible for exporting Iran’s terroristic foreign policy throughout the Middle East and abroad. Iraqi commanders and other government officials that are close to the Iranian regime are also given room to grow as their influence increases as Kurdish territory decreases.
The formula is clear: when the United States withdraws from Iraq, Iran moves in. no power vacuum goes unfiled. By not taking sides in a conflict that is tied to American national interest, President Trump is preforming a remarkable feat of Obama-era style of strategic naïveté.
What makes the statements by the President even more astonishing is that they were made not long after President Trump exhibited a realistic understanding of the nature of the Iranian regime. We should not be surprised though – incoherence is the defining trait of much of the current administration’s foreign policy rhetoric. Perhaps the President will reverse his policy inclination towards this issue, as he has done in Afghanistan. We’ll just have to wait and see.
One can hope that President Trump isn’t falling into the fallacy of believing the United States can divorce itself from the Middle East. Much of the strategic challenges America faces in the region are a direct result of an American foreign policy that is predicated from removing the US from Mesopotamia as much as possible.
The results have been devastating. ISIS launched a campaign of terror that is only now beginning to end, though there is still much fighting to be done a more territory to be liberated. Arab states like Saudi Arabia are acting more reckless as they try to counter the growing Iranian threat. Iran, feeling unchained from the lack of a strong American presence, has exerted greater influence in the Middle East in its quest for hegemony – the results of which are the infiltrating of the Iraqi government and the support of the barbaric Assad regime in Syria.
Because of the crisis of the Islamic State, The United States has again been reintroduced to Middle Eastern affairs, and must now decide what to do in a Middle East without ISIS. The coming years will be critical to the future of the region. Iraq needs American influence as it faces a crisis with Kurdistan, handles its minority Sunni population, and encounters with a power-seeking Iran.
With American assurance, Iraq can resolve the Kurdish question peacefully, not isolate the Sunnis, and fend of Iranian influence. These issues could be tilted towards accommodating American interests in the region, or, they could be stepping stones to another crisis the United States will be dragged into.
With the blessings of being the sole super power comes the burden of responsibility. The United States will have to be more involved than other nations because the US has a greater range of interest than other nations. Inevitably, this means having to play a role in the Middle East.
It is understandable why so many Americans would want to see a hands-off approach to the Middle East – for decades that region has been problematic for the US. However, the consequences of wiping our hands from the region are always disastrous. The US must pursue a policy that is predicated on the idea that the US will always have an interest in the region. The United States will have a role in the Middle East – whether the role will be prudential or reactive is up to American leadership.