Sounding strikingly like US President Barack Obama’s Republican detractors, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this week knocked American foreign policy as overly cautious, and expressed concern about the threat posed by the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS).
“The failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad… left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled,” Clinton told The Atlantic in an interview published Sunday, August 10.
“Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle," she noted.
“One of the reasons why I worry about what’s happening in the Middle East right now is because of the breakout capacity of jihadist groups that can affect Europe, can affect the United States,” she said of IS’ drive through Syria and Iraq.
“Jihadist groups are governing territory. They will never stay there, though. They are driven to expand. Their raison d’etre is to be against the West, against the Crusaders, against the fill-in-the-blank—and we all fit into one of these categories. How do we try to contain that? I’m thinking a lot about containment, deterrence, and defeat.”
Obama assigns Iran to fill the “big vacuum” in Syria and Iraq
Clinton has fallen into the same fallacy as the other critics of Washington’s Iraq policy. Whereas she is concerned about the “big vacuum” being filled by IS and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, there is no void in Syria or Iraq as far as President Barack Obama is concerned. It is filled by Iran.
As seen by DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence sources in Irbil, the capital of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq, Iran by performing this function leaves Obama free to pursue his primary goals of political change in Iraq, while avoiding direct military action in Kurdistan.
Obama’s rationale is simplistic and easily explained to US and Mid East audiences: The ouster of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his replacement by the moderate fellow-Shiite Haider al-Abadi paved the way to national unity and the certain defeat of Al Qaeda’s Islamic State.
Never mind that Maliki, as Tehran’s servant, fought Iraq’s Sunnis and Kurds for years. He has become a disposable resource, because the same Sunni and Kurdish leaders which he persecuted are now needed for a unity government. By joining up with Abadi, moderate Sunnis would return to mainstream politics, withdraw their support from IS, and pull the rug from under al-Baghdadi.
It is Obama’s belief that with this scenario in place, the IS advance through Iraq would meet less and less Sunni support.
Kurds are abandoned by Washington
Our sources say the US president’s strategy might have a good chance of working were it not for his blatant collaboration with Tehran. Iraqi Sunni leaders’ backs were put up by the sight of Americans in Baghdad working closely with Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s powerful Supreme National Security Council, former Defense Minister and ex-chief of the Revolutionary Guards Navy.
On August 11, the day he was nominated prime minister, Abadi found Shamkhani in his face, when they met in the office of the Iranian ambassador in Baghdad. This told him plainly who sat in the driver’s seat in Baghdad.
While Iraq’s power players appreciate that the Washington-Tehran grip on Baghdad is too strong for them to take on, it is worth noting that Baghdad is far from ruling the roost in the Sunni areas of Iraq – certainly not in the semiautonomous Kurdish region, where KRG President Massoud Barzani is fully alert to Tehran’s covetousness of Kirkuk’s oil fields.
Our intelligence sources say Saudi intelligence agents operating in the Iraqi Sunni areas will likely keep the Sunnis abreast of any developments in the US-Iranian alliance.
The Kurds are even more leery of this alliance. This week, they began to suspect that the Obama administration was acting to frustrate their progress toward independence in the service of Tehran, which strongly objects to Kurdish aspirations lest they infect its own and Syria’s Kurdish minorities.
As a favor to Tehran, the Obama administration, while claiming to directly arm the Kurds’ Peshmerga army against the IS threat to Irbil, actually offered no more than small quantities of light firearms, which are no match for the Islamists and their heavy American weapons.
IS unfazed by US-Iran alliance
The Kurdish army is therefore in no shape to stand up to the IS onslaught.
Furthermore, Washington was found to be secretly undermining KRG oil exports via Turkey and Israel, by sending agents to persuade its oil clients to renege on their signed purchasing contracts. This was a blow to the KRG economy.
The paradoxical outcome of the logic behind Obama’s cozying up to Tehran via Baghdad is that the Al Qaeda Islamists, who were supposed to be most worried, appear unconcerned.
It may be recalled that their commander Baghdadi demonstrated, in two years of facing Iranian war tactics in Syria, that his own tactical flexibility was proof against them. It brought his jihadis such major scoops as near-total control of Syria’s gas and oil fields and victories in military clashes with the Iraqi Shiite militias, which Tehran imported to back its ally, Bashar Assad’s army.
For its part, Tehran has in recent months pulled some of its troops back from Syria for the defense of Baghdad.
Kurdish sources told DEBKA Weekly that US air strikes this week on IS targets were too sparse to have much effect.
Obama had been banking for some time on offering Iran an easy ride on its nuclear program as a lure for turning Tehran into a powerful helping hand to iron out US security difficulties in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.
But neither IS, nor Middle East Sunnis, appear to be fazed by the Iranian menace. And so Obama’s outreach to Iran has brought America scant relief from its global headaches.