There are so many cross-cutting relationships in the Middle East today that one might just get confused as to what to do. The U.S. is against the Shiite-related Assad regime in Syria, it supports the majority Shiite regime in Iraq, and it is beginning to climb down, tentatively, from a 35-year freeze in its relations with Shiite Iran.
The Iraqi regime of Nuri al-Maliki is suddenly threatened by a Sunni jihadist movement, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) that has overlapped over parts of the two countries and now includes elements of the former Saddam Hussein regime.
To me, the way forward is limpidly obvious. It consists of two parts: one, increase aid to the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA); two, do not intervene in Iraq.
Ambassador Robert Ford, the former U.S. Ambassador to Syria, who has now left the government and is freer to speak his mind, has been advocating a significant increase in aid to the FSA. He is persuaded that the FSA would not allow the new weapons it receives to fall into the hands of jihadists.
I believe that such aid should not include, as some have proposed, a military operation, such as air attacks or actions to force open humanitarian corridors. There are two reasons, I believe, why increased aid to the FSA is now necessary. Firstly, the FSA is one of the few pressure points we have against Vladimir Putin, now that he has forfeited the goodwill of the West. Secondly, strengthening the FSA should give it more clout if and when the time comes for a political settlement in Syria.
As for Iraq, what is the point in aiding Nuri al-Maliki against the Sunni jihadists, after this leader, with his winner-take-all mentality, has utterly refused to work out a political compromise among the major ethnic groups: the Sunnis, the Shiites and the Kurds. Let us not compound the misbegotten invasion of iraq in 2003 by putting chips on the Maliki regime. It is time to let the Iraqis sort out themselves. Further, intervening militarily now would be re-engaging in a war that took the better part of a decade to get out of.
The legacy of President Obama is that he got us out of wars. Let's keep it that way. The perceived weakness of Barack Obama is largely a reflection that the American body politic is adjusting to the fact that it no longer wants to be the world's gendarmerie, involved in and trying to settle every conflict.