What thread could possibly connect the following four apparently unrelated events?
- An Israeli airstrike which just killed six top Hezbollah commanders (including the son of the deceased super terrorist Imad Mugniyeh) in Syria;
- Breaking reports that the Shi’ite Houthi militia, believed to be controlled by Iran has just launched a major attack on the Yemeni presidential palace, in what is viewed as a Tehran vs Riyadh battle;
- The administration’s threat to veto any new sanctions against Iran, even though, as the Washington Post’s editorial board notes, it would “mandate new sanctions only if Iran failed to accept an agreement by the June 30 deadline established in the ongoing talks”;
- The death of an Argentinian prosecutor the night before he was to reveal explosive details on alleged cover-up deal between Argentina and Iran of 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish center.
They are developments within Barack Obama’s foreign policy universe, that’s what. What they mean we will get to in a moment.
Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution described the chief executive’s security strategy as essentially a full-scale, covert participation in the Islamic and Middle Eastern civil wars. America hasn’t withdrawn from the Middle East. It’s right up to its elbows in it. The four events enumerated above are events within that civil war in which America is an active participant and whose outcome and aftermath the administration hopes to influence. In his Assessing the Obama Administration’s Iraq-Syria Strategy, Pollack writes that we are backing proxies across the length and breadth of the region:
In both countries, the Administration hopes to empower moderate forces—both Sunni and Shi’a to the extent possible—to fight against all of the extremists, both Sunni and Shi’a. Indeed, to the extent that there is an overarching theme to the strategy, it is one of empowering moderate forces, an idea that ought to be applied more broadly across the Middle East.
Backing the different sides because it’s a whole lot more nuanced and more effective than invading a country and trying to turn it into postwar Germany. All across the Middle East the president is playing a balance of power game. In Yemen, which the president himself called his “model” for operations against the Islamic state, the idea is apparently to pit the Houthi against al-Qaeda so that the moderates can triumph. Therefore the attack on the presidential palace is a win for Iran.
Obama hopes to make a nuclear weapons deal with Iran. In that context the Israeli attack on Hezbollah is probably a loss for Obama because it complicates his diplomacy, as does Congress’ plan to impose more sanctions on Tehran. The death of the Argentinian prosecutor might be all for the best as there’s no use upsetting the applecart now.
See? It’s not senseless after all. OK the administration’s losing across the board unfortunately, but that’s a detail.
He’s playing both sides of the fence everywhere. Pollock says, that in Iraq “the Administration has reconciled itself to the need to build, in effect, two separate militaries: a revamped Shi’a-dominated Iraqi Army and a new Sunni national guard” joined together by some kind of inclusive power-sharing arrangement. In Syria he is patiently looking for a force he can back with drones, confident that any proxy can be ushered into office by backing it with airpower and the running the resulting show from behind the scenes at arms length. Pollock explains:
It is worth noting that these ground forces do not have to be first-rate. They simply need to be good enough that, with the addition of American air power, they can defeat both Asad’s forces and those of ISIS and the other Sunni militants. That isn’t a very high standard. In its grandest moments, the Syrian armed forces never rose beyond a rigid mediocrity, and while ISIS has certainly shown both some strategic acumen and tactical ability, it faces both quantitative and qualitative problems of its own. By comparison, in Afghanistan, the Northern Alliance could not defeat the Taliban until 2001 when it was backed by U.S. air power, and the Libyan opposition was a joke in 2001, but it defeated the remnants of Qadhafi’s military with NATO air support ten years later. Thus, the historical record demonstrates that indigenous ground forces too week to win without American air support can win handily with it.