Clouds of evil surround the Middle East. Since 1979, Iran was and remains the leading state sponsor of terrorism. However, now, Darth Vader has been converted into Luke Skywalker.
Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s Quds Force, is one of the covert operators undermining governments and promoting the imperial interests of his Islamic government. He has emerged as an international “hero” bolstering the morale of Iraqi troops and inserting his Revolutionary Guard agents into the struggle against ISIS. He stands in the vanguard of the empire Iran has created from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. As Alaeddin Boroujerdi (a member of Iran’s parliament) noted: “Iran is more powerful than any time in the past 30 years.”
This has occurred with the tacit support of the United States. A hasty, and probably misguided, withdrawal of American troops from Iraq has created a vacuum filled by ISIS attacks and Iran imperial ambitions. Cleverly, the Iranian regime is playing the role of regional stabilizer by leading the forces against ISIS, albeit the actual motive of regional hegemony should be apparent to anyone with even a cursory interest in the region.
For years, Iran preferred to work its goals behind the scenes by supplying missiles to Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories. With its armed forces opposing ISIS, however, Iran is out in the open, a “respectable” neighbor tackling the abuses and savagery of an extreme Sunni militia.
In Syria, Iranian Revolutionary Guard troops protect the Assad regime. In Lebanon, Iranian troops resist any effort to oust Hezbollah control. And in Yemen, the Houthis have been supported from the outset by the Quds Force. There is little doubt Iranian militia groups are working across borders providing training, reinforcements, and logistical assistance.
Commitments of this kind have placed a strain on the economy, but the trade-off of imperial control versus immediate retrenchment at home is easily addressed with the former taking precedence over the latter. Karim Sadjadpour, an expert on Iran, maintained appropriately that “Iran is both the fire brigade and the arsonist.” At the moment, the Obama administration sees only the brigade and is seemingly myopic to the arson.
Although the U.S. sacrificed blood and treasure to stabilize Iraq, that nation is a quagmire reliant on Iran to thwart ISIS. Even Iraqi leaders who once believed maintaining distance from Iran was in their best interest, now cultivate close ties. The stage is set for the virtual union of Baghdad and Tehran as the center of Shia imperial ambitions.
Since the U.S. government seems to be intent on withdrawal from the region, Iran has become a surrogate for its military force. Putting Iran in this strategic position has alarmed Sunni neighbors like Turkey, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. In fact, a deal that accommodates an Iranian desire for nuclear weapons, or at least sufficient enriched uranium to produce these weapons, will lead inexorably to proliferation. The Saudis will acquire nukes from Pakistan, and that will merely be the commencement of what I have called “the nuclear slide.”
It is ironic that President Barack Obama received his Nobel Prize in part for his opposition to nuclear weapons. Yet, it is precisely the policies that he has pursued that have brought the region to the brink of nuclear proliferation. History does have a sense of humor, arguably a tragic sense at that.
And, while the Dark Empire of Iran is in the ascendency, American interests in the area are in decline. Here again irony strikes. As a nation, the U.S. did all it could to thwart Iranian goals, now the arc has changed as the Obama administration supports and encourages Iran’s interest. Yes, the Iran Empire strikes, and the U.S. is in the background nodding approvingly.
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