The USA Exits the Middle East; Enters Iran
George W Bush fought a war in Iraq that
ended up in a complete disaster: thousands of US soldiers died to bring about
a democratic regime that is allied with Iran for the simple fact that the
country's majority is Shiite like the Iranians instead of Sunni like Saddam
Hussein was (and like all the USA's Arab allies are). Obama withdrew from Iraq
and that void led to the rise of ISIS that conquered large areas of Syria
and Iraq before Russia, Iran and the Kurdish militias destroyed it.
Now Trump is withdrawing the few US troops that are in Syria, thereby leaving
Syria to Russia, Iran and Turkey. Syria will end up being
partitioned into three spheres of influence: the Russian zone will include the
capital, where Russia-supported dictator Assad resides, and the strategic
coastal areas from which Russia can control the Mediterranean Sea; the
Iranian zone will include the border areas near Lebanon (where its ally Hezbolla
operates) and near Iraq (the country that de facto granted Iran a military
corridor into Syria); and Turkey will take eastern Syria to make sure that
the Kurdish militias don't foment a Kurdish insurrection among its own
restless Kurdish minority as well as to protect the Sunni minority of Syria.
Russia will become the protector of the Christians and Alawites of Syria,
Turkey the protector of the Sunnis of Syria.
George W Bush was the last US president to truly believe that the Middle East
was strategic for the USA. Obama presided over a boom of domestic oil production. By the time he left office, the USA had become the world's biggest producer of oil, surpassing Saudi Arabia.
Fighting wars in the Middle East suddenly looked very silly: the return on
investment was minimal, and, in fact, Obama may have concluded that US intervention only made things worse because it motivated the most destructive forces
of Arab society.
It may have not escaped Obama that ISIS mostly attacked European, not US,
targets. European critics blame the combined actions of Bush and Obama for
creating ISIS (there was no terrorism in Iraq before Bush's 2003 attack,
and there was no ISIS before Obama withdrew
US troops from Iraq). ISIS became a European
problem (millions of refugees marching towards Europe, terrorist attacks in
several European cities), not a US problem. In the USA, way more people
are killed by legally purchased guns than by terrorists.
The other traditional reason to get involved in the Middle East was the USA's
desire to defend Israel at all costs (almost an inferiority complex towards
Israel), but Israel has never looked so safe. In fact, its borders are
now better guarded by Egypt and Jordan (both led by Israel-friendly dictators)
than by Israel itself. Nobody is worried that Israel will be attacked by
its Arab neighbors like it happened four times before. And in any case Israel
is a nuclear-armed state that would probably win a war against just about
Therefore there was already a rationale for disengaging from the Middle East
even before Putin helped his lackey Trump become US president.
Trump made two major moves in the Middle East:
1. It renewed sanctions against Iran, therefore
undoing Obama's strategy of engagement with Iran; 2. It recognized Jerusalem
as the capital of Israel. The combined effect has been to make Iran stronger
and the USA weaker in the Middle East.
Ironically, the big losers in Syria appear to be the two best-armed countries
of the Middle East: Israel now has its arch-enemy Iran near its border (plus exerting huge influence on Iraq) and Saudi
Arabia, that originally backed the Sunni terrorists (ISIS and Al Qaeda),
has lost any influence on the future of Syria and Iraq while getting trapped
into the civil war of Yemen triggered by its own arch-enemy Iran.
While Iran cannot win a conventional war against either Israel or Saudi Arabia,
it can create a lot of trouble for both.
Viewed from Iran, this is a survival strategy: Iran, a Shiite Islamic country,
is surrounded by enemies (Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Afghanistan)
and false friends (Christian Russia and Sunni Pakistan, both nuclear powers)
more than Israel is.
Furthermore, Iran is in a lose-lose situation in neighboring
Afghanistan, traditionally an Iranian region: if the government wins the civil
war against the Taliban, Afghanistan will remain a US ally; if the Taliban win (a Sunny group), Iran (a Shiite country) will have to deal with an even more
hostile neighbor (the Taliban are Sunni fundamentalists who hate Shiites more
than they hate anyone else, and Iran was the first country to fight the Taliban
in the 1990s when the US public opinion had never even heard the word).
The Iranian leaders must be painfully aware of Trump's different attitude
towards them and North Korea.
Iran does not represent a threat to the US territory
and accepted to suspend its nuclear program. North Korea does represent
a threat to US territories and has continued its nuclear program. The result
is that Trump meets with North Korea's dictator in widely publicized "summits"
while at the same time Trump isolates and demonizes Iran.
Trump calls North Korea's
dictator "honorable" while ignoring Iran's democratically elected president.
Couple this evident datum with the even more evident fates of Qaddafi and
Saddam Hussein (who surrendered all weapons of mass destruction and ended up
overthrown and killed) and
Iran has certainly learned a lesson, and so has the entire Middle East.
Short-term, Iran can only expand its sphere of influence.
Long-term, we would all be surprised if Iran didn't restart its nuclear program.
When Israel's crooked prime minister Netanyahu warned of Iran's nuclear threat,
it was a self-fulfilling prophecy.
In fact a running joke among Israeli generals is that Iran at some point
must restart its nuclear program because, if it didn't, it would crazy.
The only reason that hasn't happened yet
is that Iran has been winning in both Syria and Yemen: who needs nuclear weapons
when your enemies are so stupid?
See also: The biggest scam in the Middle East: Israel's war on Iran