“We don’t have a strategy against ISIS” are the type of remarks that you would not expect from a country who is considered to be the most powerful superpower second only to the Roman Empire with military presence in every continent. Yet, as Obama spoke these words, it was quite evident that the policy makers in Washington have decided major policy shift in the Middle East.
The new strategy that the US seems to be following in particular in the Middle East aims to push the region into a self-governing and self-sustainable setup whereby the US would serve as a passive yet ever watching policeman. The most prominent glimpse of this entire policy shift came from the Iran Deal which caught even the Mullahs back in Iran by surprise let alone Tel Aviv and Riyadh. This seems to serve as a central core of Obama’s policy in the Middle East. But one should not be too surprised by the Iran Deal given the historical precedence already present to substantiate and surprisingly to support Obama’s strategic reversal in the Middle East in the eyes of many.
When Franklin D. Roosevelt reconciled his differences with the Soviet Union, you can imagine the uproar within the Republican camp since Soviet sponsored communism was considered to be an existential threat to the free world. But according to Roosevelt, that was the necessity of the time, a move that was so unprecedented and so unexpected that caught Hitler by surprise and led to the subsequent demise of Nazi Germany – an evil that posed far more danger to America and her allies compared to Communism in the eyes of Roosevelt. Using this as a precedence, Nixon spearheaded by Kissinger made another unprecedented move to ally the US with Maoist China. This was again an unexpected move that was surprising for policy makers around the world since Maoist China was ideologically light years apart from capitalist America. Both these decisions had geopolitical implications since the former alliance helped the US to defeat Hitler while the latter helped the US to create a counter balance to the Soviet Union in the region while also saving face in Vietnam which the Soviets were planning to exploit as a symbol of American impotency.
Fast forwarding to 2014, Obama, it seems is not ignorant about history. In his bid to create a counter balance to the bourgeoning Israeli dominance (due to no active opposition as the fall of Syria and Iraq, and Egyptian support shows), and the increasing bellicosity of the GCC, Obama perhaps sees Iran as the only candidate that can rival both Israeli’s increasing unilateral actions and the GCC’s increasing war mongering attitude. Of course, Iran has and will continue to arm terrorist entities around the world but so has Saudi Arabia. The only difference now will be that Iran would have partial American approval in exporting its influence on an equal footing to Saudi’s Wahhabism. The recent statement by Masoud Barzani – The President of Iraqi Kurdistan – that Iran was the first to arm the Peshmarga against ISIS should serve as a clear signal that Iran is now being allowed to nurture close ties with regional entities in a bid to garner support. Of course, Barzani had been a close ally of Israel yet the praise for Iran is signaling the beginning of this ‘Tournament of Shadows’ in the Middle East.
If history is to serve as a guide for Obama, the lessons are quite clear. Soviet Union came to haunt back by exporting Soviet brand of communism to America and to Europe taking over countries after countries at industrial scale and challenging America head on to an extent that it became an existential threat. In the case of Maoist China, Obama’s Asia Pivot is a living testament that sometimes, the entities you support end up as being your rival. Of course, we can argue that Iran might turn out to be quite different yet, at this stage, mere conjectures albeit being educated are our only resource.