America Needs to Change Its Failed Iraq-Iran Policy

The U.S. has much to be proud of in its post-World War II American foreign policy. Containing the Soviet Union ultimately limited damage to nascent democracies everywhere and resulted in a less polarized world. Supporting post-war European unity through the Marshall Plan set the stage for the spread of democracy on what had been the most violent continent on earth for a millennium. By changing our focus in Latin America from "geostrategic" intervention to more equal partnerships, many countries -- with obvious exceptions such as Cuba, Venezuela, and a few narco-compromised Central American governments -- are now thriving democracies.

In comparison, our policies in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq and Iran, have been a disaster. We have made major contributions to the chaos in this troubled and dangerous region.

In 1953, U.S. and the British Intelligence agencies planned and executed the coup which cemented the removal of Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh, the only truly democratically elected leader in the history of Iran. This short sighted intervention was motivated by Britain's fear of losing access to Iran's oil fields and American paranoia about Iran coming under the control of an expansionist Soviet Union.

We threw our support behind the erratic, authoritarian, and increasingly repressive autocracy of the Shah, stoking popular discontent, and driving the Iranian people to initially welcome a theocratic dictatorship in 1979 that soon revealed itself to be a greater danger to world peace than the Shah ever was. More recently, there have been a series of ridiculous American overtures from presidents of both parties from covert visits to Tehran bearing offerings of cakes and autographed bibles to leaving a major Iranian opposition organization on the list of terrorist organizations without legal justification in order to entice reputed "moderates" in Tehran to talk to us.

Our invasion of Iraq 11 years ago will likely be judged as the biggest foreign policy blunder in the history of our country by one simple standard: no other single American act has made the world more dangerous. We laid the foundation for Iran to emerge as a major Middle East military power.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has become an Iranian puppet. Most recently, he accused the Kurds and the Iranian opposition of supporting Sunni terrorists, without a shred of evidence to support his claims.

Maliki, whom the U.S. continues to support, is also largely responsible for fulfilling the prediction I made 11 years ago: Iraq would split into three parts as a result of our intervention. In order to hold onto his increasingly autocratic power, Maliki has marginalized the non-terrorist Sunni community in Iraq, empowered Sunni jihadists from other countries including our own, and completely alienated the Kurds.

It is time to get smart, admit our failures of the last 60 years in this region, and stop fighting against the inevitable tide of history. It is also time to get serious about our own long-term interests and leave short-term thinking behind. We must accept the following realities. First: Iraq and Syria, which are purely creations of the European colonial powers in the post- Ottoman era, are finished as "countries." The autocrats that lead them cannot hold them together.

We should no longer oppose the independence of the Kurds. America should work with them to encourage the emergence of Kurdish democratic institutions, and insist that a new independent Kurdistan completely renounce the terrorist Kurdish organization PKK as a condition of our support.

Second: The jihadists in both countries really do represent a threat to our security, yet engaging them in conventional warfare and hoping to prop up autocrats to contain them is a response which has not worked and will not work.

The best way to fight terrorism is to respect the legitimate aspirations of the Sunni for self-governance and to support them in their own fight against extremist intruders. Third: We will have to admit to ourselves that there is a price we are going to pay for 60 years of foolish policy decisions in the region. These separations will be messy. The Iraqi Shia will have their own country, which will be heavily influenced by the Mullahs next door. However, President Obama has proved that economic sanctions are an effective way to mitigate Iranian bad behavior. Continued economic and financial sanctions will be needed to restrain the Iranian regime.

Preaching democratic values while engaging in supporting undemocratic and repressive regimes has never enhanced American credibility, and it has rarely been a successful security tactic in the long term. It is my hope that 60 years of mistakes will finally yield to real long-term thinking and a Middle East policy more consistent with the values of the American people.