If we are going to win in the Middle East, we have to get the context right. As I wrote in The War Against the Terror Masters, long before the invasion of Iraq, we cannot just “do” a country like Iraq, or today, Syria, and then move on. That’s one of the strategic mistakes Bush, Rice, Hadley, Cheney and Rumsfeld made. They viewed Iraq in isolation. They thought they could just “do Iraq,” and then consider their options. We then belatedly discovered (even though our enemies publicly announced what they were going to do) that Iraq and Afghanistan could not have decent security so long as Syria and Iran actively supported terrorists in those countries. American soldiers and countless Iraqi and Afghan civilians have paid a terrible price for our failure of vision.
The regional war has expanded, but we still look at each battle field in isolation, rather than seeing the war whole:
- Israel has been invaded, and is under constant rocket attack;
- The shooting war in Libya, where American pilots and trainers conducted operations, and others trained and helped organize the anti-Qadaffi campaign;
- We have declared diplomatic and economic war on the Assad regime in Syria, just as we began with Qadaffi’s regime in Libya;
- The war against the Kurds: Turkey now routinely bombs and invades PKK camps in Iraqi Kurdistan, while Iran shells and invades the same region. We are directly involved on this battlefield; we’ve been providing intelligence to the Turks on the Kurds since at least 2007;
- The violence against our troops, and against our allies in Iraq and Afghanistan, is relentlessly increasing.
To date, insofar as we have had a regional strategy, it has largely been based on wishful thinking, even when applied to more than one problem at a time. The administration hoped that Syria would choose friendship with us rather than strategic alliance with Tehran, that Tehran would accept our “outstretched hand” rather than continue to wage its 32-year old terror war against us, that Turkey would be our proxy ambassador to Syria and Iran, helping us to “peel off’ Assad from the mullahs and to convince Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to be reasonable about nukes, and that Obaman diplomacy would bring an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict. None of it worked.
To be sure, there was nothing new about most of that; Obama was simply embracing the failed dreams of the two Bushes and the Clintons. The only difference was timing: the others slowly came to believe that a Grand Bargain with Iran and Syria was doable, while Obama started with that fantasy. All believed—and perhaps some of our policy makers still believe—that Turkey was a friend and would support our goals.
What happens when an administration’s dreams are shattered? In a very important article in the Weekly Standard, Stephen Hayes and Tom Jocelyn suggest the administration may have drawn the obvious conclusions from the failure of wishful thinking, and may now be changing course. “With the public accusations that Iran is harboring the next generation of al Qaeda leadership and is facilitating the operation of al Qaeda’s key pipeline for funding and operatives,” they suggest, “the Obama administration seems to be saying that this conciliatory approach has now come to an end.” It’s a bit clearer with Syria; we are now publicly committed to regime change in Damascus.