For those who hoped the Iran nuclear agreement would usher in a new era of Iranian moderation in the Middle East, as we say in Brooklyn: "fgetahboutit." Actually, every move Iran has taken in the Middle East suggests otherwise.
As Henry Kissinger once said, Iran needs to decide whether it is "a nation or a cause." The Ayatollah Khamenei stubbornly prefers Iran remain a "cause."
The record of meddlesome, terror-laden interference throughout the Middle East by Tehran is growing longer by the day. The oppressive military dictatorship may be fronted by a so-called "moderate" President Rouhani, but Iran is undeniably under the control of the Revolutionary Guards and their political hacks within the Ayatollah Khamenei's clerical politburo. As it stubbornly clings to the cause of belligerence and revolution the regime has been resuscitated and emboldened by a nuclear agreement that has imposed nary a speed bump on its road to fulfilling its regional ambitions.
Cases in point: the incendiary and venomous anti-Israel/anti-Semitic rhetoric emanating from the highest reaches of the regime have become more dangerous and more provocative than ever. The terror-funding money laundered cash flowing into Hezbollah and Hamas coffers has accelerated, fueled in part, from U.S. and European unfrozen asset transfers and sanctions relief. Elie Weisel's passing was met with another Holocaust-denying tirade from several high level hardliners. The number of Iranians hanging from the gallows under President Rouhani has reached tallies higher than under his predecessor: the notorious Ahmadinejad. Oppression has escalated against average Iranians as the regime stomps hard on any effort to leverage assets relief for fear of breathing new life into Iran's suppressed democratic movement.
In the Middle East, Iran is waging a proxy war in Yemen against the U.S. and Saudi-backed government. Its provocative and destabilizing ballistic missile tests -- intended to directly threaten Israel and our Sunni Arab allies -- are deemed by the UN to be in violation of existing Security Council resolutions. And let us not forget, the "atomic ayatollahs" have never ever given up on their ambition to build a bomb; the nuclear agreement merely postpones its capacity for doing so for ten years, and will have all arms sanctions lifted against it in about 7 years.
Ground zero on Iran's revolutionary menu is Syria and Iraq. It is the Ayatollah's "front line" against all of the real and imagined foes of the regime. The Revolutionary Guard is massively deployed inside Syria defending fellow Shiite Bashar al Assad, and Iranian-backed Shiite militias are deployed in ISIS battle zones in northern Iraq. If only those deployments were for the cause of peace and stability in the Middle East. They are not. On the contrary, those deployments are part and parcel of Iranian designs to prevent the emergence of a stable Iraq and to prevent a restoration of a durable UN-sponsored cease-fire in Syria.
The Iranian government's propaganda arm is running at warp speed warning Iranians that should Assad's regime fall ISIS will soon be on Tehran's doorstep. The Farsi-language media is relentlessly pounding this nonsense into every crevice of Iranian society. Iran, in other words, is figuratively and literally getting away with murder in both Iraq and Syria "in defense of Iran."
The regime's apologists demand patience and excoriate those who question any effort to hold Iran accountable for these actions. Soon the regime, they argue, will inevitably bend to the winds of globalization and confront the exigencies required of a "proper" nation state. After all, Boeing just signed a major deal with Iran. More such deals will surely follow. Isn't that evidence, they assert, that the Ayatollah's iron grip will weaken under the weight of western investment.
Hope springs eternal.
A new, more moderate regime, the Iranian amen choir chant, will surely emerge. Just give it time. The great Iranian gamble is buttressed by U.S. assurances that it is doing everything possible to challenge Iran's expansionism. Not true! What are we to make then of Secretary of State's recent comments that Iran's presence in Iraq to be "helpful" to American attempts to beat back the threat of ISIS, given their common enemy?
It appears that Mr. Kerry, whose inclination is to sugar-coat anything that may give rise to criticism of Iran, has turned a blind eye to what U.S. commanders in Iraq are reporting up their chains of command to the Pentagon. Moreover, Mr. Kerry's limited interest in the future of Iraq's independence and integrity reflect the Obama Administration's own indifference to Iraq's long term future.
Time will tell whether U.S. national security interests can sustain the gamble, but given Iran's international and regional conduct in recent months, Mr. Kerry may need to adjust his assessment if Iraq's future stability is of consequence to the U.S.
U.S. commanders stationed on the ground in both the battles to liberate Falluja and Ramadi from ISIS forces have expressed alarm that rogue Iranian-commanded Shiite militias (aka The Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs)) are moving into these towns after their liberation and committing sectarian abuses against Sunnis, thus making refugee and displaced persons more sympathetic to the remnants of ISIS operatives in the region. The New York Times reported a few weeks ago that a Shiite militia leader, in a widely circulated video, was seen rallying his men with a message of revenge against the imprisoned civilians of Falluja, whom they accuse of being sympathizers of ISIS: "Falluja is a terrorist stronghold," said Iranian-backed militia leader Aws al-Khafaji, the head of the Abu Fadhil al-Abbas militia.
Make no mistake about it, the awful, painstaking battles being waged to liberate Iraqi territory from ISIS are intended eventually by Iran to gain more control north of Baghdad at the expense of Iraqi sectarian reconciliation and U.S. national security interest. Incorporating Iraq and Syria (as well as Lebanon) into a Shiite Crescent under the thumb of Tehran is so evident it's as if the Ayatollah has hung out a neon light declaring it so. Is this Shiite Crescent an outcome which Mr. Kerry considers an acceptable consequence of U.S. retrenchment, inadequate strategy, and Iranian expansionism?
As Iraq reels from a grave escalation of ISIS-inspired terrorism across the country in recent days, Iran-backed Shiite militiamen (often with the connivance of the Iraqi leadership) have used the growing chaos inside Iraq to launch a series of attacks against Iranian adversaries in Iraq, including a heinous attack yesterday against innocent civilian Iranian dissidents imprisoned against their will at Camp Liberty, wounding more than 40 residents. There is no doubt that this attack, as previous ones on Camp Liberty, are the work of Iranian controlled forces operating virtually at will, both covertly and overtly in Iraq. All the while, Iran is doing everything possible to fallaciously present itself as the ultimate and only reliable savior of the truncated Iraqi state.
Iran's meddling in Iraq is incessant, albeit with mixed results. Tehran's goals are overt and evident: subjugate the central government to its whim while marginalizing the minority Sunni population without driving it back into the hands of whatever remnants of ISIS remains after it is driven from the all-important city of Mosul. A balancing act? Surely. But isn't Iran really interested in having Iraq disintegrate - leaving it gobble up as much of Iraq's territory as possible up to the very frontier of the Sunni heartland?
Iran is determined to resist a revitalized and reinvigorated American effort to politically, militarily, and financially stabilize a pro-secular, reform-minded Iraqi central government. Iran takes an extraordinarily dim view of national Iraqi reconciliation, and will apparently do everything possible to sabotage that goal - a goal 180 degrees opposite to U.S. policy.
Who wins in the end from Iran's deviousness in Iraq? ISIS, or whatever remnants there are of ISIS. Tehran's machinations, intended to force Baghdad and the south to fall directly under its sway, will doom any hope for national reconciliation among Iraq's three major sects (Sunnis, Kurds, and Shiites) - giving rise to ISIS 2.0 inside of Iraq. That is the hope of any future ISIS leadership...living to fight another day to restore the Caliphate in northern Iraq...and the cycle of terror will find yet another home from which to reconstitute itself.
The next president faces an extraordinary challenge again in Iraq, and it all goes back to Iran and its loathsome, meddling regional militant strategy to stir as much terrorism and instability as possible to thwart any semblance of normalcy and stability.
The people of Iran deserve a government that is democratic, transparent, and willing to be a nation, rather than a cause. Unfortunately, as we see in Iraq, in Syria, in Yemen, and in Palestine, the regime in Tehran is determined to break our will, and the will of the Iranian people in the bargain, to create its vaunted "Shiite Crescent" any cost, no matter the how many innocent lives perish in the bargain.
Had the Obama Administration incubated the Iran nuclear agreement with an effective national security strategy to deter Iran's regional designs, our Middle East allies and the world would have been better off. But the White House preferred rolling the dice without such insurance.
The next president will have to reconstruct that very missing regional strategy, but at a severe disadvantage given how much the Obama Administration intentionally dropped the ball - brushing aside all the warnings to avoid empowering Iran to at the expense of core American national security interests in the Middle East.