Only Two Explanations Can Explain the Confusing U.S. Policies in the Middle East

Agonizing pictures and stories of Syrian refugees flooding into Europe have captured the headlines of daily news. The story and pictures of the desperate father who threw himself, his wife and baby onto rail tracks in Hungary broke hearts across the internet.

Meanwhile, many high-ranking American officials, including the FBI director James Comey, believe that ISIS (ISIL, IS) is the biggest threat to U.S. security.

The group has established bases in several countries stretching from Africa to Asia and has inspired homegrown terrorist attacks in the U.S., Australia, France, and Belgium in the past year.

Soleimani's argument

Against this backdrop, the U.S. has undertaken and still continues targeted air strikes against ISIS forces. A basic familiarity with the nature of asymmetric war demonstrates that air strikes are unlikely to defeat insurgent organizations. According to credible researchers, "the two most severe bombing campaigns in history -- the United States in Vietnam and the Soviet Union in Afghanistan -- illustrate how insurgents can absorb tremendous losses and still continue to fight."

It is no surprise that during the September 16 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Sen. John McCain, the committee chairman, said, "Published media reports suggest that the CIA's estimate of ISIL's manpower has remained constant, despite U.S. airstrikes, which suggests that either they were wrong to begin with, or that ISIL is replacing its losses in real time."

ISIS's conquest of the capital of Iraq's largest province in May sparked troubling questions about the seriousness of the U.S. regarding its war against the jihadi group.

Although a May 28 report noted that U.S. intelligence and military officials "had significant intelligence about the pending Islamic State offensive in Ramadi," Americans failed to bomb armored ISIS convoys that were moving toward Ramadi through a central road.

General Qasem Soleimani, commander of the elite Iranian Quds Force, blasted the U.S. inaction. Soleimani asked, "Does it mean anything else than being an accomplice in the plot?" He argued that America is part of the conspiracy and it does not have the will to confront this terrorist group.

Given the whole picture and the incoherent, logically questionable policies of the U.S., Soleimani's "lack of will" argument regarding the American approach to ISIS sounds convincing. As this author has argued, the seemingly inconsistent U.S. policy could be due to a White House dual containment policy toward ISIS and Iran, both in Iraq and Syria.

The decline of American influence

The U.S. allies in the region adopt policies that are clearly in contrast with the formally announced policy of the United States in its war against ISIS.

It is an open secret that while President Barack Obama announced his plan to "degrade and ultimately destroy" ISIS, Turkey continued to allow Islamist fighters from all nationalities to freely cross the Turkish border to join forces with ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Turkey did so in an attempt to achieve its primary objective of toppling the Syrian President Bashar Assad.

In addition, the American raid in May that killed Abu Sayyaf -- the ISIS man in charge of smuggling oil from Syria's eastern fields -- hardened suspicions of an undeclared alliance between Turkey and ISIS. According to a Guardian report, "one senior western official familiar with the intelligence gathered at the slain leader's compound said that direct dealings between Turkish officials and ranking ISIS members was now 'undeniable.'"

On September 1st, the Turkish Bugün daily revealed a transfer of weapons and explosives to ISIS from Turkey. Local police raided the offices of the paper's holding conglomerate after it ran the story.

It was only after a suicide bombing in July, in which ties to the Islamic State were suspected, that Turkey decided to work with the United States in the war against ISIS. The attack occurred in the Turkish border town of Suruc, killing 32.

However, immediately after the announcement of its decision, Turkey began an air campaign against both the Kurds in Syria and PKK bases in Iraq. Even before those attacks many analysts suspected that Turkey's official joining of the war against ISIS was in fact the cover it needed to bomb the Kurdish separatists in Syria and Iraq.

"Attacking ISIL became unavoidable after the Suruç massacre. ... However, the real target for the AKP [the ruling party] and the government is not ISIL, it is the PKK," said former main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) deputy and seasoned diplomat Faruk Logoglu.

In October of last year, Vice President Joe Biden suggested that the Turks, Saudis, and the UAE were the "biggest problem" in combatting the Islamic extremists in Syria. He said those countries had "poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad. Except that the people who were being supplied were al-Nusra and al-Qaeda."

The White House later said that Biden called the Turkish President, Rajab Tayyeb Erdogan, and apologized. Biden denied making such an apology but said that he told Erdogan that his comments had been misreported. But what was reported were his exact words.

Credible sources, the New York Times included, have also reported how Qatar has also been involved in the "support" of "a spectrum of Islamist groups around the region by providing safe haven, diplomatic mediation, financial aid and, in certain instances, weapons."

Can the U.S. stop these countries from aiding extremist groups? Biden says that "we [the administration] could not convince our colleagues to stop supplying them."

It should be noted that when Obama had invited the GCC leaders to Camp David in May, Saudi's King Salman turned the invitation down and the Bahraini Emir skipped the summit to join Queen Elizabeth at a UK horse show.

To put what is unfolding in the region in perspective -- particularly the behavior of U.S. regional allies toward it and its policies, provided that the U.S. is honest and serious about its intention of fighting the ISIS -- it can be concluded that the U.S.'s historical influence over the Middle East has significantly declined.

This also raises the fundamental question of whether America as a superpower is in decline.