What is in the National Interest of the U.S.?
This should be the key question for everyone to consider.
The Republican Primaries are focused on ISIS and the Syria/Iraq theatre. When you try to figure out which candidate or the multitude of media pundits has the correct strategy for resolving the conflict, your head begins to spin. It is further confused by the physical presence of other countries including the United States, Russia, Turkey, and others. If you take a quick look at the map and the legend, you will see that Syria is comprised of 15% Shia and 85% Sunni; Iraq is 65% Shia and 35% Sunni; Iran is 95% Shia and 5% Sunni; finally, Afghanistan is 15% Shia and 85% Sunni. The factional mix is at the heart of much of he conflict in Syria and the region.
Syria as a Nation: The US has no direct national interest in this country.
Syrian Rebels and the US: Since the US has no direct national interest in Syria, the US essentially has no direct national interest in supporting the Sunni led Syrian Rebel faction against Assad. The civil war sprung out of the Obama/Clinton supported “Arab Spring” in 2011. Senators McCain and Graham, joined the Obama administration in condemning the Assad atrocities. There is no doubt that the civil war and Assad’s brutality created a serious humanitarian crisis. Over 200,000 casualties to date and countless refugees resulted from the conflicts plus the virtual elimination of Christians in Syria.
ISIS Growth In Syria: Radical Sunni interest took advantage of the civil war in Syria and the disarray of Iraq following the US pullout of troop support under Obama. The radical Sunnis formed ISIS/ISIL with the goal of controlling Syria and Iraq initially then to use this as their base to export their newly formed Caliphate to other countries. It is in the national interest of the US and the West in general to eliminate ISIS as it is developing a terror network that is spreading globally. It is also paramount for ISIS to remain in and eventually control Syria, along with Iraq in order to establish their base of operations and continue to have oil exports to support their activities.
Russian Interest in Syria: Russia has been a long time ally of the Assad regimes and has established naval bases in ports located on the western coast of Syria to gain access to the Mediterranean Sea. Russia has long supplied arms to Syria and has assisted in the nuclear development in the past. Maintaining control over Syria is considered by Putin to be in Russia’s strategic national interest. The access to the Mediterranean is one factor but some control over Syrian oil, along with oil from Iraq, is part of Russia’s strategy to assist their economy and more importantly exercise control over Europe by choking off their oil in the event the west attempts to act against Russia’s interests. Putin will continue to support Assad but would accept a substitute as long as the successor maintained an “Assad” relationship with Russia.
Iran Interest in Syria: Iran, like Russia, has been a firm ally of the Assad regimes. Even though the Shia only make up 15% of the Syrian population, the Assad family are members of the Alawite religious group, an offshoot of Shia Islam. Iran is 95% Shia and sought to align with Syria following the overthrow of the Shah of Iran in 1980. Their alliance is based on a perceived need by Iran to support Shia inspired terror groups (Hezbollah, Hamas) to counterbalance the Sunni domination in the Middle East. It is also based on creating a strong, united military base in the region. Iran considers control over Syria or at least having very strong close ties in its national interest.
Iran Interest in Iraq: Iraq is also strategic to Iran and the reason for the wars against Saddam Hussein (Sunni) to establish an Iran friendly Shia regime in Iraq (65% Shia). Iraq also desires to exercise control over Afghanistan once the US pulls out. This country would provide cash flow to supplement the Iranian sponsored terror activities Take another look at the map, if Iran can form a coalition with Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, the Shia Iran would control the northern perimeter of the Middle East with direct access to the Mediterranean and Persian Gulf while isolating Pakistan to the East. They would also be in control over a huge amount of the oil reserves in Syria, Iraq and Iran.
How Does The US Fit In All of This?
Priority #1-Eliminate ISIS in Syria: Humanitarian issues aside for a moment, the elimination of ISIS/ISIL is in our national self-interest and should be the highest priority of our Middle East and African Strategy. ISIS is a real, current, and direct threat to the US, the West, and they seek to dominate all of the Muslim nations and create a single Caliphate. We have to recognize that Russia will be our de facto ally in this effort once we establish with Russia that the US is not intent on controlling Syria or establishing a democracy like we tried in Iraq and Afghanistan. During the expulsion of ISIS, our #2 priority below will have to be implemented.
Priority #2:-New Syria Our second national self-interest priority, once ISIS is eliminated from Syria, is the political stabilization of Syria. This does not mean that we would set up a government that would necessarily be an ally of the US. It would mean that we would have to work with Russia to create some level of peace between the Shia and Sunni and with international cooperation, set up a stable government. In no way should the US engage in regime change or nation building in this process. We should recognize that Russia will want to continue to have a close relationship with whatever Syria becomes as long as Syria itself considers that to be in their best interest. Some of Russia’s goals may not align with ours but we need to focus on the fact that Syria is not part of our national self-interest in the region as long as it is stable and does not foment terrorism. The ugly part is Iran. Iran desperately needs to maintain its control over Syria as a base of terror operations in support of the Palestinians against Lebanon, Jordan and Israel. Iran will seek to establish a Shia stronghold in this predominant Sunni nation. If Iran is frozen out of the political solution for Syria, we should expect that Iran would use Hezbollah to try to destabilize whatever solution is implemented.
Priority #3-Eliminate ISIS in Iraq: Once the head is cut off of ISIS in Syria, the effort to eliminate ISIS in Iraq should be less difficult. The unfortunate circumstance is that the infiltration of ISIS in Iraq could have been prevented with a Status of Forces Agreement. Now, we will have to build a force in Iraq to retake areas that were once stable. We should recognize that Iraq is 65% Shia and that it is a natural ally with Iran as such.
Priority #4-Status of Forces Agreement in Afghanistan: We cannot make the same mistake Bush and Obama made in Iran by not having an SFA with Afghanistan. Since Afghanistan is 85% Sunni, we should create a Sunni led protective force within the SFA. The SFA must be strong enough to not allow the Taliban to go unchecked and reign terror in Afghanistan nor allow an ISIS like group to form.
Priority #5-Eliminatation of Islamic Terror Groups: This needs to be a Sunni Islamic led engagement. This is extremely complex as Sunni Muslims in different regions are not the same from a religious or political perspective. There will be some military components of this effort but the real effort is the de-radicalization of portions of the populations of Islamic countries. One wrinkle will be to keep Iran from meddling into the areas that the Islamic led engagement group is operating. This will require a united international front to pressure Iran from interfering with the process.
Priority #6-Prevent Iran From Going Nuclear: This should be our #1 national priority as soon as Obama leaves office. Once Iran acquires nuclear weapons, all of the above advancements could be easily negated. Our options become much more limited with a nuclear Iran to the point that a nuclear response is the only option. Why we allowed this to occur, and both Democrats and Republicans are to blame, will be a question asked by succeeding generations.
Both Democrats and Republicans have gotten it wrong in the past and are still getting it wrong.
Relationship with Russia: Russia could be a very real threat to the US but one that should be manageable if we engage them in mutual self-interest talks while reaffirming our commitment to NATO and our allies. Russia still controls a stockpile of nuclear weapons sufficiently equal to ours to be more than just a problem. We need to create a relationship with Russia from a position of strength rather than weakness. Part of the strength will be to help Europe have the option to be less reliant on Russian natural gas and oil. Putin does not want to lose this market but right now he can use his resources to cripple Europe until they give in to his demands. We also need to tell our European allies that they will be responsible for funding more of their military infrastructure. We should not be subsidizing Europe’s left leaning social agendas with our tax payer dollars!
Middle East: The US should eliminate regime change and nation building from its foreign policy. This policy has failed in Iraq, Libya, and elsewhere and we are on a path for it to fail in Afghanistan. Our values are not necessarily the values of other nations or Peoples. If there are humanitarian crisis, then those should be dealt with international efforts versus our acting alone or with limited allies. This does not mean that we will not act in OUR self-interest if a country becomes a threat either militarily or from terrorist activities. We must work with the Arab nations to be more responsible for controlling their own regions and policing the creation and growth of rogue organizations.
Conflict Refugees: We must revert back to our international UN agreements that create safe zones within the conflict regions and not try to export refugees into incompatible cultures. It is one thing to have immigration policies where there will be a known and managed number of immigrants each year come into a foreign country. The smaller numbers can assimilate and become productive members in their new society. But, bringing in 25,000+ refugees into incompatible cultures will create segregation and inhibit integration of the refugees into the new culture. The potential health hazards are yet unknown from the current waves of Syrian refugees. When you travel to foreign countries, you are required to have specific vaccines. None of these protections are in place with the current influx of refugees.
We are not a perfect country but we are certainly not the villains that are perceived in some minds around the world or even within our own White House. We are always the first to respond to a crisis in other countries. Our people are the most generous in personally support relief efforts around the globe. We just need to be smart in our foreign policy and recognize that in order to protect others, we need to protect ourselves first. Our national self-interest is not a selfish but a selfless act. If we do not survive, who will be there to help others? We need to be proud of our accomplishments but recognize that our Constitution, our economy, and our belief systems may not fit others and may actually create more harm than good.
We must also remember that our foundational values have made this the greatest nation on earth. We cannot change our core foundational values without forfeiting our heritage.