An axis of three or four?

Ryan Crocker was the U.S. ambassador to Iraq during the surge of 2007. Crocker’s diplomacy played a substantial role in the success of the surge. Only the president who ordered it and general who conceived and carried at out deserve more credit, in my opinion.

A few days ago, Crocker spoke to a group at the Atlantic Council. C-SPAN covered the event.

Crocker said that during his recent visit to the Middle East, he heard two views about the general situation in the region. The first view is that an axis consisting of Iran, Russia, and Assad (along with Hezbollah) is dominating the region, and that the United States is basically on the sidelines. Not a pretty picture.

The second view is uglier still. It holds that the U.S. is the fourth member of the axis.

I don’t consider this view tenable; nor did Crocker endorse it. There is good reason to believe that President Obama wants to cooperate with Iran and sees it as a potential ally in the subduing of some of our enemies in the region. But no such alliance has been cemented, thanks primarily to Iran’s resistance. And I don’t see the U.S. as a collaborator with Syria or Russia.

On the other hand, it’s not difficult to understand who some in the region view the U.S. as part of the Iran-Russia-Syria axis. Obama recently concluded a deal which gives Iran the financial means to continue its march towards regional domination (without eliminating Iran as a potential nuclear power).

In Syria, Obama is bombing, albeit rather fitfully, Assad’s enemies in Eastern Syria, while doing precious little to support Assad’s enemies in other parts of the country. Furthermore, Obama worked with Russia to find an excuse not to attack the Assad regime after it crossed the so-called red line on using chemical weapons.

Thus, it’s reasonable for interested bystanders in the region to ask: what would Obama be doing differently if he were not a silent partner of Iran, Russia, and Syria. As the old-time communist left would say (with characteristic intellectual dishonesty), Obama is “objectively” their partner.

Here’s the key point, though: perceptions like the one Crocker reports matter vitally. If key players in the Middle East view the U.S. as basically sidelined (viewpoint #1), it will be difficult for the U.S. to obtain their meaningful cooperation in the fight against ISIS or in any venture that might impede Iranian aggression.

If key players view the U.S. as part of the Iran-Russia-Syria axis, it will be impossible to secure cooperation. Indeed, it may well be impossible to prevent those who can from enlisting, to one degree or another, in the axis.