09/12/2014 04:37 pm ET Updated Nov 12, 2014

Obama Strategy Stumbles Over Conflicting Interests of Allies

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President Obama has announced a strategy for fighting ISIS that, in many respects, is at odds with the interests of the allies in the Middle East whose support he is seeking. Trying to keep his allies happy and in line with the new ISIS battle has trapped the U.S. in a policy full of contradictions.

Any effective strategy to stabilize the Middle East instead of accelerating its disintegration must first of all recognize that all the problems in the region are tied together. A piecemeal instead of a comprehensive approach is destined not just to fail, but also to deepen the chaos.

It would behoove Obama then to clearly understand the interests his allies in the region are pursuing -- and their consequences -- in order determine whether or not they are in line with U.S. interests going forward:

-- Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and United Arab Emirates are all allies of the U.S., but much of the funding and arms for the region's Salafi groups, such as ISIS, come from these countries. Frightened by the Arab Spring, the regimes of these nations have poured gasoline on the Shiite-Sunni sectarian war, the significance of which still appears not to be fully understood by U.S. policymakers.

-- Israel has always sought to provoke the U.S. against Iran, Iraq, Libya and Syria in order to fight its enemies by proxy.

Israel's provocations contributed to the invasion of Iraq and the NATO intervention in Libya, destroying the national armies of the two countries. The U.S.-allied Saudis have been backing the opposition fighting the Syrian army for almost four years.

The end result of all these interventions is the accelerating disintegration of the Middle East and the creation of new countries. Iraq, Syria and Libya have been practically partitioned into several regions that act more or less independently of the central governments. Arming the Iraqi Kurds will only exacerbate the situation.

-- Turkey, another U.S. ally and member of NATO, has its own ambitions that are not in line with those of the U.S.. Turkey has allowed free transit of the global jihadists to Syria. Leaked tapes have indicated support for Turkish action in Syria. There have also been reports of secret relations between Turkish officials and the Syrian opposition.

-- Iraqi Kurds and their leader, Massoud Barzani, have made clear their desire for an independent Kurdistan. Britain, France, Germany and the U.S. are arming the Iraqi Kurds to supposedly fight with the Islamic State group. However, there is no guarantee that the same weapons will not be used by the Kurds to secede from Iraq and to try to separate the Kurdish regions of Iran, Turkey and Syria. Millions of people will die under such circumstances, because none of these nations will allow the disintegration of their territory.

Iran and Israel also play a role in this regional complexity. Though President Obama appears genuinely committed to resolving the standoff with Iran over its nuclear program, any meaningful steps are being blocked by the influence of Israel and the Saudi lobbying in the U.S. Congress.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has repeatedly declared that, in the framework of the international treaties and Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran is willing to reach an agreement with the international community regarding its nuclear program. He has given President Hassan Rouhani a free hand to work out the agreement. But, he has also repeatedly said that he does not trust the U.S. and believes that the U.S. is trying to threaten his regime.

Khamenei has retreated from his previous hardline positions regarding the nuclear program, and Iran has granted the IAEA more inspections than it is required to under the NPT and related agreements. In return, Iran wants the crippling economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. and its allies to be relaxed. But, the U.S. acts as if it believes that it has cornered Iran and can extract more concessions. U.S. officials, including Wendy Sherman, undersecretary of state for political affairs, have repeatedly said that the comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran must last for a time period with two digits, implying that the sanctions against Iran will be lifted after at least 10 years. Even then, as Sherman has emphasized, only the nuclear program-related sanctions will be lifted.

Thus, Mr. Obama's desire for reaching an agreement with Iran, and his administration's insistence for a long-term agreement with Iran are contradictory. One result of this contradiction is strengthening Tehran's hardliners and weakening Rouhani and his reformist allies. The hardliners argue that Rouhani has made many concessions but has not received any significant concession in return.


Without a comprehensive and internally consistent U.S. strategy for the entire Middle East, including the Israel-Palestinian problem, the terrorist surge consuming the region today will be exported to every corner of the world.

Not only must the U.S. pressure its Arab allies of the Persian Gulf to stop flow of funds and weapons to the Sunni extremist groups, but it must also pressure Saudi Arabia to resolve its disputes with Iran. And it can't continue its double standard with Israel.

The U.S. cannot help Israel to develop its nuclear arsenal with up to 300 warheads while simultaneously pressuring others in the same region to give up peaceful use of nuclear energy and technology.

As American diplomats Ryan Crocker, William Luers and Thomas Pickering stated in an op-ed on July 11 in the Washington Post, a U.S.-Iran nuclear deal can also save Iraq by tempering its meddling there. But, there can be no cooperation from Iran if the economic sanctions against it are not lifted in a reasonable manner after a nuclear agreement has been reached.

If the U.S. is truly worried about instability and bloodshed in the Middle East, it should transcend the contradictions in its policy toward the region.

This article was translated by Ali N. Babaei.

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