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Navigating the Middle East Mess Left by Obama and Bush

The Trump administration now has the difficult job of navigating the sorry mess left in the Middle East by George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

The “mess” is both religious and geopolitical in nature, and, while one wishes it could be repaired by American intervention, history, as written by presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, indicates that is unlikely.

Trump and Saudi PrinceHowever, for argument’s sake let us survey the situation and see if America’s continued intervention can effectuate a “repair.”

First, a definition of the “mess.”

It seems a distant memory now, but thirty years ago the Middle East was a relatively stable – if undemocratic – region of the world.

True, there were regional wars between Arab states and Israel and between Iraq and Iran, but those wars were of only tangential concern to the United States as proxies for the Cold War with the Soviet Union.

All of this changed when the United States engaged Saddam Hussein, first to eject him from Kuwait and later to overthrow him for his pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and continued support of terrorism against the United States.

The destruction of the Saddam Hussein regime overthrew the delicate regional balance of power between the two major sects of Islam: Shia and Sunni.

Iran is Shia and considers itself to be the rightful center of power in the Muslim world and the protector of the Shi’ite Muslim population throughout the world, and especially in the Middle East.

Iraq is a Shi’ite majority country, but the ruling elite in Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime was Sunni.

The destruction of Saddam Hussein created a power vacuum in the middle of the Middle East and loosed an assortment of ancient political and religious demons upon the entire region.

The anti-American regime in Iran was all too happy to feed these demons and fill the power vacuum to advance both geopolitical and religious goals.

Our friend “Spengler” writing for Asia Times defines the resulting mess this way:

Russia, to be sure, wants to restore its status as a world power; the Saudi royal family supports an expansionist brand of Salafist Islam; the Turks imagine themselves the founders of a new caliphate; and Iran wants to establish Shi’ite hegemony. All of these attitudes are relevant, to be sure, but America’s willful destruction of the Sunni-Shi’ite balance of power in the region drew all of these players into a permanent regional war. Whatever the ambitions and illusions of regional players, America’s strategic bumbling in Iraq compelled them to act as they did out of raison d’etat.

The George W. Bush administration in its folly and naivete thought that a majority ruled Iraq would be a democratic and peaceful centerpiece of a new peaceful Middle East.

What they failed to account for was the geopolitical and religious aspirations of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The Iranians fanned the flames of sectarian war in Iraq and when Obama was elected President found a willing ally in the new President who was only too happy to allow them to pursue their hegemonic goals; first through benign neglect of the war in Iraq and later by lifting sanctions on the Islamic Republic and granting them a path to nuclear weapons.

After tipping the balance of power towards Iran and the Shi’ites, Trump is trying to restore the balance of power by reinforcing Saudi Arabia.

Spengler claims Moscow and Beijing would also like to see the balance of power restored, but this is less clear.

There is now an Iranian, Persian, Shia corridor of influence that runs from Iran through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon to the Mediterranean. This corridor was created in the course of the battle to quell the Syrian civil war and eject the Islamic State from its Caliphate straddling the Syria – Iraq border.

“Shiite Crescent” or Iranian land corridor from Tehran to the Mediterranean complicates President Trump’s job further.

As Herbert London is President of the London Center for Policy Research observer in a recent article, after President Trump assumed office, he indicated a primary policy of defeating ISIS. Uniting U.S. Special Forces with Iraqi troops and Qud Revolutionary soldiers, the caliphate was destroyed including the stronghold in Raqqa and its last foothold in Syria’s Dair Ezzor province.

The last remaining obstacle to the realization of Iranian goals is a coalition of Syrian Kurds and Arabs known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Kept apart at present by a U.S. Russian deconfliction channel, both sides are securing critical territory.

London says the question that remains about Trump’s Syria policy is whether it was designed to defeat the Islamic state or whether it is informed by the larger strategic view of Iran’s regional dominance. If the latter, President Trump must decide how and when he will deploy American troops as a counterweight to the Iranian surge.  

The problem in the aftermath of these battles is that – just like in the aftermath of the defeat of Saddam Hussein – a plan for the future has not been forthcoming. In fact, the Iranian role in the defeat of ISIS elevated its stature and influence.

If President Trump is serious about countering Iranian aggression and repairing the mess in the Middle East left by Obama and Bush, then steps must be taken across the region. Should the Trump administration do nothing to counter Iran in this corridor – which is what Bush and Obama did – the Iranian Revolutionary Forces will assert political and economic dominance over the entire northern tier of the Middle East and realize their goal of becoming the Middle East’s Shi’ite superpower.

George Rasley is editor of Richard Viguerie's A veteran of over 300 political campaigns, he served on the staff of Vice President Dan Quayle, as Director of Policy and Communication for Congressman Adam Putnam (FL-12) then Vice Chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee's Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, and as spokesman for Rep. Mac Thornberry now-Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

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