By John Ubaldi
Contributor, In Homeland Security
The Middle East has always confounded the United States, but in recent years the region has exploded into a chaotic mess, one in which the U.S. seems to be reacting to events instead of shaping events.
The recent exodus of hundreds of thousands refugees as they move north into Europe from Syria and other countries in the region, has highlighted a glaring deficiency of inaction by the U.S. throughout the Middle East.
Both the Bush and Obama administrations hold equal responsibility for the situation in which the U.S. finds itself. The Bush administration entered into Iraq without a plan, and President Obama withdrew the U.S. precipitous out of the region and then disengaged itself from the Middle East.
Now the situation in which the U.S. finds itself pre-dates both presidents, and finds itself back to how the European powers artificially drew the boundaries of the Middle East after the end of World War I. From there Arab nationalism and political Islam, coupled with military dictatorships and hereditary leaders which constantly keep the people under decades of repressive governments, eventually leading to a boiling point which resulted in the “Arab Spring” in 2011.
Both political parties are still fighting an old argument on what brought us to this point, while each are equally at fault for the current situation. With the various Middle East governments who truly bear the burden of this mess, all we did was just open a Pandora’s Box.
Now for the current situation, the U.S. enters the presidential election with neither candidate of the Republican or Democratic Party, addressing the numerous complex issues involved.
The situation with Syria and ISIS are multifaceted and without a true easy answer for resolve.
Current policy has the U.S. trying to degrade and destroy ISIS, but the results have had a mixed record, with many national security strategists complaining on how airstrikes are being conducted, and that military action alone will not solve this problem.
The military is still looking for a strategy from the president, but this past June the president stated he is looking for a strategy from the pentagon; this has led to strained relations between the Defense Department and the White House.
The military can defeat ISIS with a coordinated and sustained military campaign, but then what replaces ISIS? There are various terror organization currently operating in Syria, what is the strategy for dealing with them?
Defeating ISIS in Syria is one component, but then what about the regime of President Bashar Hafez al-Assad?
It was back in August 2001 that President Obama stated “The future of Syria must be determined by its people, but President Bashar al-Assad is standing in their way,” Obama said in a written statement. “For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside.”
Now more than four years later Assad is still in power, but now backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who just in the past few weeks has sent Russian military equipment to Syria, which includes tanks, howitzers and armored personnel carriers, which also includes Russian military personnel.
The New York Times reported Pentagon officials saying that the Russian weapons and equipment that had arrived suggested that the Kremlin’s plan is to turn the airfield south of Latakia in western Syria into a major hub that could be used to bring in military supplies for the government of President Bashar al-Assad. It might also serve as a staging area for airstrikes in support of Syrian government forces.
This has changed the calculus of the situation on what strategy the U.S. pursues with Syria. Assad also has strong military and financial support from Iran, to include Iranian military troop support.
The recent signed Iran nuclear agreement gives Tehran billions of dollars plus, with the ending of sanctions in the months ahead, additional economic capital to support Assad and other proxy forces in the region.
The Syrian civil war has exacerbated a humanitarian crisis of monumental proportion, with refugees fleeing to neighboring countries such as Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon housing hundreds of thousands of refugees. Now these people are migrating to Europe is search of a better life.
The focus has been on the refugee crisis, but the situation in Iraq is no better than Syria. ISIS occupies much of the north, except a portion of the Kurdish controlled area, who are really the only force capable at this point of battling the Islamic State.
Presently Iraq is dominated by the Shiite controlled government in Baghdad who are receiving there marching orders from Tehran, and the Iraqi army essentially is a sectarian army made up commanders loyal only to Baghdad.
The U.S. has been trying to influence the situation on the ground with military advisors, but without support from the Sunni tribes, this is a failed proposition.
Then you have to factor in heavy Iranian support and influence, plus our disengagement in the region in favor a nuclear deal with Iran has left our traditional allies bewildered on U.S. commitment to the region.
The original question now has the U.S. reacting to events instead of shaping events.