To compare U.S. President Barack Obama to a modern-day Nero may be somewhat harsh, but as the Middle East continues to disintegrate, falling into chaos and unprecedented violence, its oilfields and gas fields within grasping reach of well-organized terrorist groups, it’s hard not to when no clear U.S. foreign policy is in sight.
In 1990, President George H. W. Bush (the elder) went to war against the most powerful Arab army to force Iraqi President Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, the tiny emirate he had invaded a few months earlier, claiming it as Iraq’s 19th province.
The only reason Bush Sr. went to war and succeeded in putting together a formidable coalition that included Arab countries was the need to safeguard Kuwait’s oil.
Today, two of the Middle East’s most key countries – Syria and Iraq — are quite literally on the verge of disintegration, threatened by terror groups the likes of which the world have rarely seen, with the potential to jeopardize the security of Western Europe and United States, and yet there is no visible U.S. involvement or articulated policy to manage the crisis.
What is even more alarming is that this latest crisis did not suddenly appear out nowhere, as the loudest media narrative has insisted. Alarm bells and red flags were consistently ignored by the Obama administration.
Members of the U.S. administration were warned, repeatedly, that ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, posed a real threat to the security of Iraq, and ultimately to the region, but chose to ignore the warnings.
As reported by the Daily Beast, "On November 1, 2013, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki visited the White House, and made a rather stunning request.”
Maliki -- who reportedly celebrated when the last U.S. troops left Iraq in 2011 -- made a very discreet request of the White House to return some U.S. military units to Iraq so they could assist the country’s air force in planning target acquisition of ISIS positions.
Senior administration officials told the president that ISIS was producing upwards of 40 suicide bombers a month.
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ISIS took advantage of the Iraqi government’s weakness and the Iraqi army’s unpreparedness. That, compiled with Sunni disenchantment with the government’s policies, provided fertile grounds for the Islamists to strike.
Yet the warnings were there, clear for anyone to see, if anybody really wanted to see. The problem was that nobody close to the American president seemed to give it much thought. All the intelligence services were telling anyone who was willing to listen that the news from Iraq was worrisome. No one at the White House seems to have been listening.?
Additionally, too much trust was placed in the restructured Iraqi Army. Despite major U.S. training and reforms, Iraq's military suffered from poor operational tactics while legitimate and popular grievances were unheeded.
Obama could have used political leverage to force al-Maliki to avoid sidelining the country’s Sunni population. The sale of advanced weapon systems for nearly $11 billion should have been the carrot.
And major notice should have been taken when Fallujah -- a town made infamous during the U.S. occupation of Iraq when Sunni gunmen killed American contract workers, and where resistance to the U.S. presence became notorious -- was the first major and strategically important city to fall to the Islamists.
When Fallujah fell, red flags should have gone up. But the only flag that went up was the black banner of the jihadists.
It was only after Iraq's second-largest city, Mosul, fell to ISIS that the world began to take notice. But by then, ISIS had gained control of oil fields in Syria and some in Iraq, and had looted millions from banks in the cities they occupied.
Obama may be thinking that the fallout of this crisis will be mitigated if the U.S. continues to pursue improved relations with Iran. But again, he seems to ignore the fact that countries like Saudi Arabia and Turkey will never accept Iran playing the role of the regional policeman.
Like it or not, as the only remaining superpower, the job falls to the United States. It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it.
By Claude Salhani of Oilprice.com