The Middle East is once again about to face some rather dramatic changes. The good news is that the Gulf Cooperation Council plans to develop a NATO-like joint military command to provide for the rapid development of forces when a regional threat arises. Not only does this show a higher degree of commitment to regional security on behalf of Middle Eastern governments, the recognition of common security threats offer member states common ground from which to build stronger, broader ties. In turn, serving the common interests of these governments means their democratizing populations must have more of their interests served, if the Middle East is to be secure.
Meanwhile, several nations within the US-led coalition against the Islamic State are planning to send a total of 1,500 troops to help in the fight against IS. This could eventually pave the way for additional troops from coalition members. If Arab countries are among this list, whether now or late, it will demonstrate the kind of commitment Middle Eastern countries need to have in order to successfully defend themselves from threats like the Islamic State, especially when the military of a regional power, such as Iraq, becomes overwhelmed by a security threat.
Unfortunately, the Iraqi military is months away from retaking territory lost to the Islamic State. Not wanting to risk the Iraqi military losing, once again, to the Islamic State, it is obviously better to wait a few months and concentrate on other means of weakening the Islamic State, especially their finances. Opening a second front against the Islamic State in order to provide a safe zone for Free Syrian Army rebels to operate is one strategy being considered by the Obama Administration that could have a strong impact, if it is part of a broader strategy that also addresses the threat of the Assad regime as well.
Where Western officials champion the success of coalition airstrikes, embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is trying to frame the US-led bombing campaign against the Islamic State as unsuccessful in improving conditions in Syria. In all honesty, Assad makes a valid point to some degree, but it is important to remember the airstrikes are designed to provide air cover for Iraqi ground forces and degrade the capacity of the Islamic State to engage in significant military campaigns. The Islamic State as a military force is being degraded back into a terrorist group that is forced to engage in guerrilla warfare instead of open war. At the same time, it is important to the Obama Administration is not trying to help the Assad government with his fight against the Islamic State.
Consequently, what Coalition forces need is a strategy that kills two birds with one stone. Looking back at the Washington Outsider August 29, 2014 blog post, “President Assad, There Is Another Way to Defeat the Islamic State,” as well as the August 29, 2014 post, “Iraq and Syria Strategy: Give Islamic State Safe Haven and Help Assad Fight,” that strategy could involve corralling the Islamic State and into a war with the Assad regime or Assad giving up power. Should the US-led Coalition decide to open a second front against the Islamic State, this may well be their actual goal.
Unfortunately, there is the Iran conundrum. Not only does the United States still hope to reach a diplomatic resolution to the nuclear Iran issue, Iran is helping to battle the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria while Iran is an ally of the Assad regime. Regrettably, blog posts by Iran’s top government strategist Alireza Forghani over Iran’s supposed “Elongation doctrine” are worrisome. Where the zeal of war hawks too often leads to unnecessary wars, diplomats, who always see a diplomatic solution and save countless lives their efforts to resolve conflicts, can delay necessary action to the point a far more bloody war becomes unavoidable.
Given the Islamic State and a destabilized Iraq is a far more pressing concern to Iran, the US should not concern itself with how Iran might react to the US taking action against the Assad regime. In fact, Israel may well have actually made this point moot by allegedly bombing Damascus. Consequently, it is increasingly important to remind Iran of the consequences for pursuing a nuclear weapon by reinstating and ratcheting up sanctions against Iran until, and if, negotiations progress. It is also important for the US to seize opportunities to both weaken the Islamic State and bolster ally support, which can be done by pursuing a strategy that also weakens the Assad regime. Moreover, there are both positive and negative developments in the Middle East, but the governments of the region and world are working toward a brighter future.
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