The United States’ decision to involve its military so heavily in the Middle East has been driven by the underlying motive of countering Iran since the U.S. lost complete control of the country following its 1979 revolution. Not long after the revolution, the U.S. backed Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran in a brutal eight-year conflict that nearly killed off an entire generation of Iranians. The U.S. also secretly armed Iran, which is unsurprising considering the U.S. has a habit of maximizing chaos in the region.
Even though Saddam Hussein was using chemical weapons against Iranians, the U.S. turned a blind eye. In the years following the Iran-Iraq war, America’s focus then turned mainly to Iraq after the U.S. government decided to betray its Iraqi ally, launching an invasion into Iraqi territory. The U.S. then slapped sanctions on Iraq, which the U.N. estimates resulted in the deaths of approximately 1.7 million people, including 500,000 to 600,000 children. These democracy-spreading American politicians were well aware of these figures and still thought the price was “worth it.”
When the U.S. invaded Iraq again in 2003 and overthrew Saddam Hussein, the establishment’s focus immediately shifted back to Iran. Bush stated in 2007 that he had authorized his military commanders in Iraq to “confront Tehran’s murderous activities.” He also famously claimed it was in everyone’s interest “that there be a stable Iran, an Iran that is capable of rejecting Iranian influence.”
“I mean Iraq,” he added, correcting himself.
Bush’s incessant gaffing may be laughable in that he confused Iran with Iraq when he was clearly referring to one as a newly formed ally and one as a long-term rival, but even if he had spoken correctly, the statement would still have been somewhat laughable. Some years later, Iran is one of Iraq’s closest allies and has been integral in ousting ISIS from Iraq’s major cities. Iranian-backed militias were even drawn into the recent chaotic fight in Mosul – a U.S.-backed operation – and were also major players in other strategic areas, like Fallujah.
Iran has firmly supplanted itself into Iraq and doesn’t appear to be leaving anytime soon – unless the U.S. is willing to drive them out physically.
So how did Iran get so involved in Iraq? To put it simply, the U.S. ousted a Sunni Iraqi leader they had backed to wage a brutal war against Iran and replaced him with a government that was majority-Shia — meaning the new government was capable of aligning itself with Tehran. If the U.S. wanted to truly isolate Iran, they should never have removed the most anti-Iranian president the Bush administration could ever have hoped for, let alone replaced him with a Shia-dominated government in their effort to destroy as much of Hussein’s legacy and support base as possible.
Similarly, before the Syrian conflict erupted in 2011, Iran and Syria had strong ties and good relations, but there was no need for Iran to establish itself as a large and permanent military presence. (Similarly, Russia had no underlying reason to inject itself so strongly into Syria, either, even though they had a military base there already.)
But now, by backing and arming fanatical jihadists over the course of the conflict and threatening the Syrian government with war for the past six years, the United States has forced Syria to look elsewhere for support. This support has come mainly from Iran and Russia, and now Iran has thousands upon thousands of troops on the ground there. Trump’s national security advisor, General H.R. McMaster, estimates that 80 percent of Assad’s forces are “Iranian proxies.”
And as the Syrian conflict grows ever closer to what can only be described as a looming victory for Assad in some way, shape or form, the Iranian presence in the Middle East is about to be significantly bolstered. If a single border crossing, which is located in al-Tanf, is opened up to Syrian forces and Iranian proxies, then Iran’s amalgamated arc of Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon will almost be complete. This is the ultimate nightmare of countries like Saudi Arabia and Israel, which have invested heavily in preventing such a scenario from unfolding.
Further, Iran is repopulating areas of Syria with Shia families so it can produce a fully fledged Shia-dominated bridge between itself and the wider Middle East. This arc of influence won’t be just a political alliance — it will literally represent the people and the families on the ground, further tightening Iran’s grip on the region.
Make no mistake: Iran is emerging the victor from the U.S.-backed wars in Iraq and Syria even though these wars were designed to weaken Iran.
Would Iran have such a stranglehold over Syria if it weren’t for the Syrian crisis, which was instigated as part of the U.S.-NATO agenda? Even if it did, would this pro-Iranian axis also extend to Iraq if the U.S. hadn’t toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003?
The same can ultimately be said of the recent Qatar crisis. Saudi Arabia and a handful of other countries have attempted to isolate Qatar in the hopes that they can forcefully bring the Gulf state to complete submission and force it to cut all ties with Iran. Instead, because Qatar cannot realistically meet Saudi Arabia’s demands, Qatar has been thrust into the open arms of Turkey and Iran. Turkey, a NATO ally, is also strengthening its ties with Iran.
If the ultimate goal of U.S. foreign policy has been to crush resistant states and isolate and target Iran, thereby weakening it, the strategy has backfired quite dismally. Iran now has a very strong presence in Iraq and Syria, and the Saudis are becoming increasingly concerned that it may have also found a way to expand its influence in Yemen, which is right on Saudi Arabia’s border.
No matter how one assesses this dilemma, America’s regime change operations in the Middle East have been failures. Forget the fact that these operations help extremism spread like wildfire, kill millions of civilians, and provide little security for the region. The U.S. can’t even claim these strategies have helped prevent emerging threats such as the one allegedly held by Iran.
In this context, if you still believe Iran truly is a great threat to global security, it’s time to question how it could be that Washington’s strategy to date has only empowered Iran to manifest itself as a major player in the region.
Sounds like it’s time for a new strategy altogether – one that doesn’t involve warmongering and geostrategic games that only prolong the suffering of innocent people. You can only try the same failed strategy so many times before a cognitive revolution becomes imperative.