Two of the most insightful commentators around — Cliff May and David Frum — worry that America’s fight (such as it is) against ISIS will assist Iran, our deadly enemy. How valid is this concern?
There are two main ways in which Iran might benefit from our “war” against ISIS. First, the war might prompt the U.S. to make concessions to the mullahs in exchange for Iran’s help. The Iranians are key players in Iraq, the main front in the fight against ISIS. This is May’s primary concern.
Second, the war might help Iran by strengthening its allies (or puppets, some would say) in Iraq and Syria. Frum makes this point.
As to the first concern, it is quite possible that Obama, will make concessions to Iran, including concessions regarding its nuclear program, in the name of securing cooperation with Iran in the fight against ISIS. To do so would be, as May argues, “a historic blunder.”
But the problem here, I submit, isn’t the fight against ISIS but rather Obama’s eagerness to strike a deal, nearly any deal, with Iran. Iran has a strong interest in preventing ISIS from overrunning its Shiite allies in Iraq. The U.S. need not make concessions in nuclear negotiations in order for Iran to assist Shiites trying, for example, to prevent Baghdad from being overrun.
Unfortunately, Obama seems to be looking for excuses to make concessions to Iran. Indeed, his vision for the region appears to be based on some sort of grand bargain with the mullahs.
May explains how, with regard to Iran’s nuclear program, the president has gone from “dismantle and disclose” to “disconnect, defer and deter.” But this happened before ISIS finally managed to make it onto Obama’s radar as other than “the jayvee.”
For Obama, a deal with the mullahs is a pre-set agenda item — one that dates back to his debates with Hillary Clinton during the 2007-08 primary season — much like abandoning Iraq was. Abandoning Iraq was, of course, a much more urgent matter given the 2012 election. But now, in the waning days of his presidency and with Israel contemplating a strike against Iran, Obama desperately wants an Iranian deal.
In sum, the fight against ISIS does not require U.S. additional concessions to Iran and if Obama makes additional concessions, the fight against ISIS will be the pretext, not the cause.
But won’t the very fight against ISIS assist Iran? Not much, and not to the point that we should stand by while a force deadlier than al Qaeda builds a state the size of Great Britain.
In Syria, the relationship between the Assad regime (which Iran is propping up) and ISIS is not a straightforward adversarial one. Assad has largely conceded portions of Syria to ISIS. His fight is primarily with the other major rebel groups.
If the U.S. were to degrade or destroy ISIS in Syria, Assad would still have to contend with the same factions he is doing most of his fighting with now. And if, somehow, the Free Syrian Army faction were to become a strong fighting force, Assad (and by extension Iran) would be worse off than he is now.
In Iraq, by contrast, the defeat of ISIS would be a major plus for the government, which is pro-Iranian. But we lived with Maliki’s Iran-leaning government for years, and the new government seems less tilted towards Iran and more favorably disposed to the U.S. How long this will be the case is unclear, but if anything we may gain, rather than lose, influence to the extent we play an important role in thwarting ISIS in Iraq.
In any event, it seems clear that the U.S. is better off even with a Maliki-style government in Iraq than with ISIS in control of large parts of that country. It’s extremely doubtful that either a Maliki figure or Iran would use Iraqi territory to plot attacks against the West.
Moreover, Iran’s influence over the Iraqi government doesn’t appreciably increase the threat the mullahs pose to the U.S. or to other states in the region. An ISIS-free Iraq would still be a fractured excuse for a nation.