Part I: Keep Pressuring Iran
Regardless of his claims, President Joe Biden inherited a strong hand in the Middle East. Objectively, the region is safer than 2016. But the administration wants to go backwards four years. Why? The world today is different.
The president’s job isn’t to reverse his predecessor’s progress, but to build on maximum pressure and deterrence. If he and his acolytes revert to failed policies, they’ll undermine the leverage and a chance at peace.
When President Barack Obama and Biden left office, the ISIS caliphate subsumed large parts of Iraq and Syria. The latter was using chemical weapons against innocent civilians. Using our money from the failed Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA), Iran was marching across the Middle East. There was no prospect for stability in the region.
The Trump administration drove ISIS from its caliphate; killed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2019; enforced Obama’s faux red line in Syria; launched missile strikes against the Assad regime for using chemical weapons against civilians; re-imposed crippling sanctions on Iran, which forced them to cut funding for terrorist proxies across the region; and perhaps most notably, obliterated terrorist mastermind Qassem Soleimani.
Removing Soleimani last January had a huge impact because he was uniquely influential and cannot be easily replaced. When Iran’s back was to the wall in Syria in 2015 because the opposition seized most of the country, the Quds leader went to Moscow and talked the Russians into intervening. Eliminating this evil menace meant the loss of a front-line commander.
For irrational reasons, the Biden administration made clear they hoped to return to the JCPOA, lift sanctions, and grant financial relief. And what’s happened so far? A contractor working closely with the U.S. was murdered by Iranian allied forces in Iraq. Iranian thugs smell weakness and will extract concessions when servile diplomacy is enacted.
Many State Department policies are on autopilot. And so, it was verboten that you cannot move our embassy to Jerusalem, because that is destabilizing. Under leadership from Mike Pompeo, the U.S. Embassy relocated to Jerusalem in 2018 and recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which critics claimed would all destabilize the region; instead it did the opposite.
Four Arab-Israeli peace accords that changed calculations about regional security also were brokered. When not colluding with terrorists to hurt America, John Kerry said doing so would create an inferno in the region and put peace out of reach. The opposite happened.
Someone like former President Donald Trump may have limited knowledge but he also wasn’t steeped in the orthodoxy of how Middle East policy was done. So he appointed Jared Kushner, with no foreign policy experience, and they accomplished what all the experts couldn’t.
Considering Kerry and Hillary Clinton didn’t get Arab-Israeli peace agreements as secretaries of state, the Biden administration needs a dose of humility.
Part II: Security and Withdrawal
The withdrawal of troops from Iraq in 2011 was inimical to success, and worse, it was done to fulfill a political promise to the anti-war left. ISIS seized a third of the country, terrorized Sunni and Kurdish populations, nearly took Baghdad and Erbil, and required us to engage an expensive, multi-year campaign to push them back. When Obama hesitated in 2014, Iran was right there with forces and weaponry. This was a terrible experience for those who lived through it, and the same team is back in government. They must think twice before they make life and death decisions.
I could understand The Nation and Reason magazine types if we had 250,000 troops engaged in major combat. But we had more troops at the Capitol last month than in Afghanistan and Iraq combined — and at the request of Democrats, many remain.
If the purpose of drawing down our footprint is to turn the mission over to our allies, a few thousand troops to enable that is worthwhile when several trillion will soon be spent on a health and unemployment crisis that’s on the decline.
Americans are reluctant internationalists. But when you explain our national security is at risk, most are willing to use force. That’s not looking for war; that’s a warning if you mess with the United States, we’ll “put a boot in your ass.”
Obama and Trump failed to explain why we have an interest in being in these countries, not with hundreds of thousands of troops, but a few thousand; because if we don’t, they will attack us here at home. It’s often that simple.
“We are in Afghanistan to prevent the launching of another catastrophic mass casualty attack on the homeland. From that perspective, it’s worked pretty well,” AEI’s Marc Thiessen said last week. “Our job, from most Americans’ perspective, is not to build a Jeffersonian democracy. It’s to make sure they don’t come kill us again and take down buildings.”
I’d also remind people we’ve had 50,000 troops in Japan and 25,000 troops in Korea for 65 years; maybe most importantly, 35,000 sit in Germany — focused on enhancing security along NATO’s eastern flank or extending our military’s reach into the Middle East and Africa — over several decades. They’re staying.
Endless/forever wars? Russia didn’t send tanks over to the Fulda Gap during the Cold War because Harry Truman wisely did not pull armored cavalry regiments out decades prior. Peace in Europe was preserved.
And if we have a small, manageable number of troops across Afghanistan or Iraq for the next 20 years — to ensure we don’t have another 9/11, or a nuclear, biological or chemical attack that kills 20,000 or 200,000 — it’s a small price to pay.
The Biden administration must realize not everything Trump did was bad; they can acknowledge we are in a better position now across the Middle East than 2017. The new regime has leverage with Iran and momentum toward peace, but if they bring the wrong attitude, they’ll blow it.