The Rudderless Strategy

American strategy in the Middle East is incoherent. Similar to a sailing vessel without a rudder, it is moving in different directions, and perilously off course. The recent extension of talks between the U.S. and Iran highlight this problem as it is related to American policy towards the Islamic State.

The image most telling was President Obama in a summer press conference stating that he (the U.S.) did not have a strategy to fight ISIS. Then he did, (admittedly this seemed rushed, a “work in progress” after the initial criticism) but still at odds with recommendations from his military commanders. This has resulted in an American strategy both unrealistic and a threat to Israel too. It is unrealistic to destroy an organization with a Salafist-jihadi ideology while not taking allies i.e. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to task for bankrolling ISIS. And while ignoring this particular inconvenient truth the U.S. has pursued a nuclear deal with Iran against real concerns from its ally, Israel, in the fanciful hope that Iran can apply pressure in Syria where a bulk of the Islamic State is comprised.

There are limits to what military force can achieve too. Briefly, the coalition of nations cobbled together by the U.S. is composed of nations with different interests and internal constraints. Translation: no repeat of 1990-91 or 2001. No, effective support to the United States then and with ground troops from the U.S. and the U.K. off the table, the reliance is on local forces in Syria and Iraq that are weak, and an air campaign military experts are skeptical of since the situation on the ground is more complex by the fluctuating societal and political situations in Syria and Iraq.

The West is fighting a terrorist organization with semi-state capabilities. As I wrote in my book the Long War: America, Terror, and the War for Western Civilization, the Islamic State as the latest terrorist jihad group has advanced weapons, enormous amounts of money from its oil fields and other resources, namely it’s supporters in the Middle East. More alarming is the enlisted foreign fighters and advanced media network. Also important is the long reach of those semi-state capabilities. A security concern surely for the U.S. but a nightmare for Israel since the capabilities listed above may potentially filter into jihadi organizations and networks in countries and entities bordering Israel.

Furthermore, in its rudderless strategy the hope by some in Washington that the U.S. and Iran work together is a poorly devised short term fantasy. Cooperation of this kind would occur at Israel’s expense and harm its vital interests. Also, increased Iranian influence in Syria and Iraq would strengthen Hezbollah’s status in Lebanon, meanwhile strengthening other Shi’a radicals and unwisely aid in Iran’ goal of regional hegemony.

A strategic relationship won’t develop between the U.S. and Iran. It is in the interest of one but not the other. As the U.S. ship of state continues to drift aimlessly in the waters of Middle East unrest, the potential for it striking rocks is highlighted by misguided fantasy and unwise strategy.

About the Author
Dr. Aaron Walter teaches International Relations. He writes on American foreign policy towards Israel. In addition to topics directly related to U.S.-Israeli politics, he has written on the presidency and security studies as linked to U.S., Europe, and Israeli studies