Just when you thought there was nothing left for Obama to give to the Iranians, he’s prepared one last concession for the Islamic republic: the Kurds.
Since the spring of 2013, Obama has focused his Middle East policy around arming radical Syrian rebels in order to fight Assad while ignoring the Kurds, our only ally in the region. Over the weekend, The New York Times published an in-depth expose on the CIA’s joint program with Saudi Arabia to arm and train these rebels. Obama has spent all our political capital in the region doing the bidding of Turkey and Saudi Arabia; allowing our arms to fall into the hands of local Al Qaeda affiliates. This has resulted in the strengthening of both ISIS and Iran, our two biggest enemies in the region.
At the same time, Obama has given the Kurds the cold shoulder, even though they are the only stable ally in the region that has proven their ability in fighting ISIS. He has also focused on helping Shiite militias in Iraq by arming the “Iraqi security forces,” which has only further strengthened the Iranian hegemony. Consequently, Obama has managed to appease Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Iran—all while strengthening Al Qaeda in Syria and doing nothing to weaken ISIS.
Had we focused our Middle East policy exclusively on the Kurds, we could have been on the right side against all of our enemies by merely providing money, weapons and training to friendly and effective forces—without risking the lives of our own troops. Now we are falling on our swords for our enemies’ gain in the region.
What’s worse, Obama’s disregard for the Kurds is now driving the Kurdish leadership into the hands of Iran. Feeling dejected by America and Europe, which almost let the Kurdish capital, Erbil, fall into the hands of ISIS in 2014, they are turning to Iran for help, according to a new report from the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs:
Iran understood that the 2014 IS offensive that brought the jihadist group within striking distance of Erbil was a golden opportunity. Unverified Kurdish reports maintain that General Soleimani of the Iranian Qods Force entered the KR with a convoy of 70 military vehicles the night of the IS attack. […]
There is no doubt that Iranian forces have fought alongside PUK peshmerga fighters. Soldiers from Iran’s 81st Armored Division helped PUK and Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) fighters push IS out of Khanaqin, a Kurdish city on the border with Iran in Iraq’s Diyala province. In October 2014, Iranian television broadcast images of Soleimani alongside peshmerga fighters on the battlefield. The pictures were said to be from Jurf al-Sakhr south of Baghdad.
While the West continues sending the KRG small arms and limited numbers of anti-armor missiles, Iran has stepped in, becoming the peshmerga’s primary artillery provider, especially BM-14 and BM-21 truck-mounted rocket launchers. The Soviet-made systems burn through ammunition quickly, and Iran sends daily shipments overland to the peshmerga.
Thus, Obama is helping Iran by serving as the Shiite military in central Iran, instead of rooting for casualties in the Sunni-Shiite Islamic civil war. Concurrently, he is helping Iran by not engaging with the Kurds, the one area of Iraq we should secure as a permanent ally and strategic bulwark against all our enemies. How could someone possibly conjure up a more dyslexic foreign policy?
The neo-conservatives and feckless Republicans also share in the blame. They have refused to cut off funding for the Syrian rebels and the Shiite-dominated Iraq forces since 2013. This has made it easier for Obama to ignore the Kurds and waste our money and resources on enemies. Their ridiculous focus on Assad and the Syrian civil war—places where we have no dog in the fight—have enabled Obama to drive the Kurds into the hands of Iran. While the leadership of the ruling Kurdish party has always had ties to Iran, a common sense plan by our leadership to arm the Kurds could have undermined those ties and prevented a budding alliance.
Last week, Mitch McConnell placed a bill from Lindsey Graham on the Senate calendar, which would grant Obama authorization for use of military force (AUMF) against ISIS without any geographical or time constraints or any other conditions. Now wonder how Lindsey Graham polled under 1% in the 2016 presidential primary! This will enable Obama to double down on the same failed policies he has pursued since the beginning of his presidency.
Instead, Republicans must pass an AUMF explicitly banning Obama from arming Syrian rebels or Shiites in Iraq and transfer that funding directly to the Kurds. With perhaps our only ally in the region drifting towards Iran, we cannot wait another year to right this ship.
Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.