A hollow laugh might be permitted at the alliance now announced as the result of Secretary of State John Kerry’s latest journey through the Middle East, this time to construct an alliance to counterattack the latest Arab menace to America, Islamic State (also known as ISIS).
President Barack Obama and Kerry are assembling a coalition “of the willing” to deal with the self-proclaimed new Islamic Caliphate and its singularly bloodthirsty leader, again self-appointed, the Emir Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Kerry came to Paris following his journey with a list of nations ready to contribute “as appropriate.”
American officials say some but not all on the list would be willing to conduct military action itself. France says it will join in the bombing, but Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron, who already has engaged noncombat aerial assistance, is reluctant to join in what the military are disposed to call “kinetic” action, meaning high explosives.
Australia, in no noticeable danger, nevertheless is sending not only aircraft, but also some ground troops.
To date, Iran is the only country in the region actually fighting against Islamic State on both fronts, the one in Syria defending Bashar Assad’s government, which Iran has supported since the beginning of the uprising in Syria, and the other front in Iraq opposing the Sunni Islamic State. On the face of it, this suggests that a strategic alliance of Iran with the United States might benefit both.
In Washington last week, Sen. Rand Paul went on record as declaring on Buzzfeed that “If we were to get rid of Assad, it would be a jihadist wonderland in Syria.” He sees Syria and Iran as the “the two allies” who together would have the means, ability and motivation “to wipe out ISIS.”
But Barack Obama and John Kerry — and above all, both parties in the American Congress — are not interested.
According to the Associated Press, Iraqi President Massoum, a Kurd, said he “regretted” that the U.S. was not allowing Iran to participate in the Paris conference. Support from a coalition of nations was “unnecessary,” he said.
Yet Iran was the only government in the Middle East, other than Assad’s Syrian government itself, to be officially excluded from the international conference in Paris, called to provide assistance to the new Iraqi government.
According to the New York Times, Kerry said that because Iran’s paramilitary Quds Force has been deeply involved on the ground in Syria “it would not ‘have been’ appropriate” for Iran to attend the Paris affair.
“The regime is a state sponsor of terror in various places,” he added.
Another obstacle was that although the U.S. is pursuing discussions with Iran on nuclear matters, any official collaboration with Shiite Iran in the war to “destroy” Islamic State might upset the big Sunni Arab states, along with Turkey (and Israel), who could find in that a reason to opt out of the new coalition — such as it is.
The American ban on public friendship with Iran is the result, of course, of two ancient grudges, the first when in a democratic election in 1951 the Iranians elected a popular populist figure, Mohammad Mosaddegh, leader of the National Front Party, as prime minister. His government nationalized the country’s British-controlled oil industry, as its party program had promised.
The shah of Iran condemned this, and fled the country. The U.S. joined with its British friends in organizing a coup d’état that deposed the elected prime minister and restored the shah, who then rearranged the government in the expectation of preventing new “changes of regime” in the future.
Alas, this proved a failure, and in 1979 another upheaval, led by supporters of a popular and long-exiled Muslim ayatollah, Ruhollah Khomeini, made him the nation’s leader, and the shah again found it prudent to flee. The ayatollah’s followers expended their enthusiasm by attacking the U.S. Embassy and taking prisoner its occupants.
There is a well known third obstacle as well. Israel has forbidden the U.S. to deal normally with Iran, alleging that Tehran is developing a nuclear weapon to use against Israel, and want Iran destroyed, as the single surviving Islamic major power in the region since Iraq was disarmed by American invasion and occupation in 2003.
Never mind that new evidence is available that this nuclear program, like the imaginary mass destruction weapons that drew the U.S. into attacking Iraq in 2003, is the product not of Iranian laboratories but of Israeli propaganda.
Last weekend in Iraq, a BBC team reached the front lines where American airstrikes helped “Iraqi and Kurdish forces” regain control of a border town. The BBC interviewed Shiite militias who admitted they were trained, funded and led by Iran.
“Iranian forces now control everything except the flag” was the comment. Kurdish forces, who have not distinguished themselves so far, were fighting alongside, in an uneasy partnership.
Since the emergence of generalized hysteria concerning Islamic State as a global threat, there have been important changes in Iranian policy. Tehran withdrew support for the embattled Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki and actively promoted his replacement.
More surprisingly, relations have thawed with Saudi Arabia, to the point where a deputy foreign minister has been sent on an official visit to Jeddah to discuss common strategy against Islamic State. These changes no doubt reflect the election in Iran last year of a more liberal President, Hassan Rouhani.
Iran is expected to meet informally with American officials on the margins of the international conference in New York next week, when negotiations on the nuclear matter resume.
William Pfaff is an American journalist who focuses on foreign policy. His latest book is “The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America’s Foreign Policy” (www.williampfaff.com). © 2014 Tribune Content Agency
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