By Brett Daniel Shehadey
Special Correspondent for In Homeland Security
Iranian backed surrogate Shia militias in Iraq are now committing ‘revenge’ war crimes in Tikrit. The militia and paramilitaries, after the taking of Tikrit Wednesday, are fueling greater region-wide sectarian jihad through local abuse. In Yemen, Sunni states led airstrikes against Shia fighters.
The cycle continues. Thursday, speaking in regards to Yemen, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the Sunni Arabian-led airstrikes against the Houthi an act of genocide. The Houthis are not controlled by Tehran but are supported by them.
Such intense language from the Ayatollah fuels and intensifies the abuses of Shiite forces throughout Iraq and will no doubt intensify throughout the region as a bipolar world of Sunni versus Shia violent extremists trigger the grass roots war crimes, while rival state leaders encourage retaliation from above.
Previously, ISIS was responsible for some of the most horrific crimes against humanity that the world recently witnessed. Now, there is a growing Shia terror extending out beyond the Allawite dominant Syrian regime or Hezbollah—Shia paramilitary forces that are highly religiously charged in revenge killings and sectarian warfare. They play a vastly different game than professional armies but such formal military structures in the Middle East also lack restraint. In an atmosphere so religiously charged, one abuse is quickly matched by another. It is insufficient to defeat the enemy—the enemy must be humiliated, tortured and utterly destroyed under the rules of jihad. These are the markings of a region-wide sectarian genocide.
America should stay as far away from this as it can. It is too late to stop, with three hotspots of sectarian conflict (Syria, Iraq and Yemen). It is likely to engage Saudi Arabia against Iran in direct confrontation, but if not, a regional sectarian cold war. No player will be innocent and neither player will adopt the rules of engagement Western militaries and their populations will demand. Offering arms to the Sunnis is often just as lethal and counter to U.S. interests and national security as offering arms to Iran. Ironically, Israel, with all of its rhetoric is the only player to demonstrating restraint against threatening neighbors. In other words, Israel is a good lapdog. If Tel Aviv wants to become the ‘alpha’ and lead with Saudi Arabia, they should do so on their own dime and not with our money and weapons.
Ultimately, Riyadh will prove irresponsible and unworthy of American weaponry and support; not only for what their country stands for, but for what crimes they might commit in the near future. As the Sunni states rightly re-balance Iranian aggressions, the added sectarian jihad will push this dynamic far beyond a simple geopolitical matrix. One can observe the intensification of tit-for-tat Sunni-Shia aggression since 2003. Al-Qaida in Iraq engineered this divisive strategy and ISIS has perfected it. This is the strategy that must be defeated rather than choosing sides between two terrible actors.
The region can expect much more dragging bodies through the streets, hangings, beheadings, heads on posts and extra-judicial killings from both Sunni and Shia jihadists.
Secretary of State John Kerry warned Iran about interfering with Yemen and stated that the U.S. was aware of their support to the Houthis. If Washington was aware, why did they allow the Houthis to take power? This only makes Washington look weaker to the regional players than it did before it was war weary.
Now is not a time for Washington to issue blanket warnings with no teeth. They cannot have one foot in the Middle East and stop a cascading region-wide failure of sovereign states (Syria, Iraq and Yemen). Either the U.S. is “in” the Middle East with guns blazing and targeting the evils of one or the other rival and the terrorists in between or they are “out” of it. America cannot be halfway inside the Middle East and Washington should not back regimes that are just as contrary to freedom and human rights than Iran.
An “in” strategy for U.S. Middle East policy means sending more military “advisors” (ground troops). It means conducting large scale military operations and picking sides; it means targeting terrorists in the midst of larger chaos and wasting more and more money while saving some lives in the short term; and perhaps winning an election, but eventually losing the Middle East to a longer regional sectarian cold war. This cold war cannot be stopped using American military force or solely siding with the Sunni coalition. It means protecting key strategic interests for as long as possible; and draining highly needed funds and spreading thin in other regions like Europe and Asia. It is a fool’s errand.
An “out” strategy for U.S. Middle East policy means that the U.S. leaves the problems of the Middle East to the maturing state actors that are assuming their natural power assent from a deceased Saddam and a barricaded Assad. These two regional rival states are Saudi Arabia and Iran and all the other actors will polarize around a Sunni or Shia banner; including jihadist groups like the Islamic State, al-Qaida, the Taliban, Hezbollah, the Revolutionary Guard or the Mukhabarat.
An “out” strategy for the U.S. does not mean giving up; it means thinking beyond large-scale military force and targeting priority threats to the U.S. without distractions of managing the impossible. Out means the U.S. is not committed to either party sectarian power center or any course of action that might force and constrain necessary future American military actions. It does not waste money and plays the opportunist role while working on better political solutions through the entire range of its power.
Out means encouraging new foreign powers like China to take an interest in securing their own oil supply lines. Out means becoming more energy sufficient and supplying the world with oil from domestic, Canadian and other liberal regime partners if and when the Middle East pipelines are stalled through greater conflict and disruptions. Lastly, out means focusing on higher priorities like defending Europe and managing Asia.
The American people wanted an out strategy of the Middle East after Afghanistan and Iraq. The U.S. military should be praised for doing the impossible and taking Afghanistan and Iraq while the politicians should be highly ridiculed for a “lack” of political strategy and use of statecraft. However, the military should not continue to undergo political mission failures using military force. The problem is that America does not have the nation-building capacity in the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, or any other department or agency to rightly build nations to specification—especially in the Middle East.
America finds itself in the position of larger losses strung over time if it continues to stubbornly cling too tightly to power. America is at loss to defend its historic strategic points around the world through willpower and capability after: two major wars, a Great Recession, the specter of the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe and the Communist Party of China flags flying over more and more of the Pacific waters and building military fortresses on artificial islands.
America is unable and unwilling to fight in Europe, the Middle East or Asia against emergent regional and global powers. A strategic retreat in the Middle East might allow a greater position elsewhere. The theory goes that America is already seen as a power vacancy in the Middle East so its presence will not be missed. On the other hand, this is also not a total retreat or a rapid one. But a return of military force and support on a large scale will also not gain the American people anything at all at this point in the Saudi-Iranian cold war; and may encourage a rapid cessation of the Shias only to spawn something worse than the Sunni spawned Islamic State.
A possible victory elsewhere is better than a gradual defeat in the region or a catastrophic implosion that results in hegemonic overreach. The smartest move for Washington is to steal space elsewhere while the parties below are concentrating on fighting over the sand and sea; and while America’s theater and strategic rivals believe the hegemon is recoiling on familiar spaces.
Conquer cyberspace and outer space in secret; colonize the moon, revolutionize the nature of space travel; reinvent cyberspace once again without peers. A redeployment of influence in a higher dimension and dominance in more essential 21st century terrains are necessary to sustain the absolute advantage; both of which are also deteriorating as America continues a foolish quest to keep its former glory in a changing world—as the world falls apart.
If the hair on the back of your neck stands up when you see American military involvement recharge in the Middle East, it should. But instead of doing nothing, America needs to realize that the previous consequences of military actions without political framework are the present. Future military actions will make a bad situation even worse. Helping the Iraqi Shia caused Iran to electrify the region and reverse-abuse the minority Iraqi Sunni. Helping the Sunni rebalance in the cold war will result in more abuses beyond our control.
NOTE: The opinions and comments stated in the preceding article, and views expressed by any contributor to In Homeland Security, do not represent the views of American Military University, American Public University System, its management or employees.
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