Obama's Problem with the Middle East Tango!
19 March 2016
By Eyad Abu Shakra
Last week I enjoyed reading an article by the American writer Thomas Friedman
entitled ‘The Many Mideast Solutions' about what Middle East the next US
president should expect to see. Before that, a friend of mine who is a senior
researcher in International Affairs at a leading American university,
commented on an article I had written about Henry Kissinger's Middle East
legacy; expressing his fear that the Obama Administration may be about to
leave the Middle East lock, stock and barrel, concentrating instead on other
areas, such as China.
Whether one accepts everything Friedman says or not, there were a host of
irrefutable truths he mentioned in his article. One of the most noteworthy
relates to the Palestinian question, second to the Sunni – Shi'i conflagration
now – unfortunately – dominating the Syrian uprising that began as a peaceful
uprising by a population oppressed by the evils of corruption, nepotism and
the security apparatus of a police state for more than four decades.
With regards to the Palestinian question ,I think Friedman was right to
conclude that the ‘two-state solution' is ‘dead', although one may not blame
all those he blamed equally. True, the next occupant of the White House come
next January will face a virtual state of ‘full occupation' from the
Mediterranean to the Jordan valley. The culprits, according to Friedman, are:
1. ''… the fanatical Jewish settlers determined to keep expanding their
footprint in the West Bank and able to sabotage any Israeli politician or army
officer who opposed them…''.
2. ''… right-wing Jewish billionaires, like Sheldon Adelson, who used their
influence to blunt any U.S. congressional criticism of Benjamin Netanyahu …''.
3. ''Netanyahu, whose lust to hold onto his seat of power is only surpassed by
his lack of imagination to find a secure way to separate from the Palestinians
4. ''… Hamas (which) devoted all its resources to digging tunnels to attack
Israelis from Gaza rather than turning Gaza into Singapore, making a
laughingstock of Israeli peace advocates …''.
5. ''… The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, sacked the only effective
Palestinian prime minister ever, Salam Fayyad, who was dedicated to fighting
corruption and proving that Palestinians deserved a state by focusing on
building institutions, not U.N. resolutions …''.
As for the Sunni – Shi'i issue, Friedman rightly claimed that Washington under
a new president is going to deal with ''a no-state solution in Syria, Yemen and
Libya, a non-state solution offered by the Islamic caliphate (ISIS) and a
rogue-state solution offered by Iran''. He was also right to say that Russia's
Vladimir Putin was ''deliberately bombing anti-regime Syrians to drive them
into Europe in hopes of creating a rift in the European Union, strain its
resources and make it a weaker rival to Russia and a weaker ally for America''.
Continuing from the above, I would say that the ‘no-state solution' pertaining
to Syria is now a fait accompli regardless of what happens on the ground.
Political and military decisions about Syria are now taken in Moscow and
Tehran, not Damascus. Bashar Al-Assad has become nothing but a ‘receiver'
appointed by a bankruptcy court and a tinderbox of sectarian blackmail and
agitation. Meanwhile, the false claim by Moscow and Tehran that they are
engaged in a ‘war against ISIS' is finding an Obama administration eager to
believe and a US Secretary of State willing to endorse and promote.
What the White House does not seem to accept – as Friedman seems to note – is
the existence of vital mutual interests between Iran and ISIS whereby each is
capitalising on the extremism of the other, using it as an excuse, and
convincing its followers that its brand of extremist line is the obvious and
In the meantime, in the minds of Sunnis – especially Arab Sunnis – any serious
campaign against ISIS is impossible to justify while Iran's IRGC continues to
flex its sectarian campaign across the Arab world and boast that their agents
control four Arab capitals: Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and San'aa.
Well, let's be more specific and take two clear cut examples; the way Bashar
Al-Assad and IRGC's Qassem Suleimani relinquished control of Raqqah, and how
the Da'wa Party – led Iraqi government almost ‘handed over' Mosul!
Why should a sectarian regime like Al-Assad's, which has founded – under the
reign of the current president's father – the infrastructure of an Alawi
sectarian ‘mini state' in the coastal region of Syria and has become an
‘incubator' of Iran's Hezbollah, bother about keeping the remote
Sunni-majority provinces of Raqqah and Hasakah?
Why would this regime care about what befalls Tayy', Al-Jubour, Al-‘Uqaidat,
Al-Shu'itat and other tribes of the mid-Euphrates and Al-Jazirah, and try to
solve their intermittent problems with the Kurds whom it badly treated and
Wasn't it always more worthwhile for Al-Assad to co-operate with Iran on
created sectarian militias whose task was to support the regime's Special
Forces' ‘Defence Companies' and other trusted elitist tools, past and present,
when the moment of truth comes and the big lies of secularism, ‘progressive
politics', Arab unity and socialism are uncovered?
With regards to Iraq, the intense hatred, vengefulness and keenness to uproot
the Ba'th regime under American occupation of the pro-Iran Shi'ites was common
knowledge. These factors were very much behind the ‘political' sham trials of
Saddam Hussein and his subordinates; which were basically nothing more than
sectarian and ethnic acts of revenge against a painful past rather than a new
beginning for an open and tolerant ‘Iraq of the future'.
Then, even when Al-Qaeda exploited Sunni bitterness at being marginalized, it
was the Al-Anbar Sunni tribes which rose in arms against the extremist
terrorists, overlooked the injuries inflicted on them by premier Nuri Al-Maliki
sectarian policies, and fought the ''Sahwat' (i.e. awakenings) uprising.
However, instead of being rewarded and compensated for this act of patriotism,
the Sunnis continued to be not only marginalised but also persecuted.
Such an environment of sectarian bitterness as well as machinations of
regional and international intelligence agencies provided the perfect
incubator for ISIS. Indeed, many ISIS extremists ‘managed to escape' from the
notorious Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad and headed for Syria, then Mosul fell
to ISIS (almost without a fight), and now the whole of western Iraq is
threatened with a catastrophe to millions of Iraqi Sunnis if the Mosul Dam
Obama's Washington claims it wants nothing to do the Middle East quagmire. It
may have even convinced itself that it can afford doing nothing.
But it seems to have forgotten the term ‘It takes two to tango'; given what we
now know that Vladimir Putin isn't a good dancer or doesn't want to dance, and
the same applies to the decision makers in Tehran!
Eyad Abu Shakra is the managing editor of Asharq Al-Awsat. He has been with
the newspaper since 1978.