Saturday, March 7, 2015

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, March 7

by David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch 


The Israeli prime minister made his case for blocking any American nuclear deal with Iran, given the nature of the regime. It is a speech worth listening to. Prime Minister Netanyahu is a true nation-man, and his fear that Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution is an existential threat to Israel is not his alone. His 1993 book A Place Among the Nations: Israel and the World is a stunning historical, military,  and geographic argument explaining why Israel could never allow a truly sovereign Palestinian state on the West Bank. At the same time he argued that more democracy in the Mideast would produce regimes willing to deal with Israel as fellow nations. He makes the democracy argument much less these days and, in fact, is quite open that the territorial boundaries necessary for the defense of Israel will soon preclude a "one-man one-vote" democracy for all residents. Israel is first and foremost a Jewish state, and her domestic and foreign policies will defend that communal reality. It is hard to imagine any American statesman who could make the kind of arguments for a grand strategy for his own country that Mr. Netanyahu has made for his.


It probably would have been more fitting for the Prime Minister to testify to a Senate committee with the chance for debate and questioning, rather than giving him such an uncontested forum to undermine the goals of our Secretary of State negotiating with Iran. But his voice and argument had to be heard. It is not clear if he will be properly answered. He stated: "Iran now dominates four Arab capitals, Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, and Sanaa. And if Iran's aggression is left unchecked, more will surely follow." In each of these places Shiite Muslims have risen to assert their rights to function as a political body. In Iraq it was not Iranian mullahs but the blood of American soldiers that ensured a democratic election in which Iraqi Shiites forged an elected, though embattled, government. In Yemen it was the Houthi tribes on their own initiative who asserted themselves against a lackluster government and a threatening Al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula. In Damascus, does anyone really think that President Assad is taking orders from Tehran? Most Christians in Syria are glad to be protected by Assad and welcome Iran's help in fighting ISIS. In Lebanon, the Maronite Christians will see Hezbollah as militarily competent Shiite allies in the fight to keep their multi-group state free from the Sunni purification movement of al Qaeda, ISIS, and Wahhabi Islam. They will look for Sunni Lebanese allies against the Sunni extremists.

Apparently, as Bill O'Reilly once said: "Shia-Sunni, Sunni-Shia: the American people don't care about that." Well, maybe most Americans can't learn about such religious and military distinctions. It is why we have senators and congressmen -- not opinion polls -- to determine foreign policy. It is why seasoned political journalists were once the only men considered capable of becoming news anchors. Newsmen and senators alike had better learn about the Sunni and the Shia, for we are being drawn into the wrong side of the Sunni/Shia war if we follow the applause lines of Mr. Netanyahu's speech. To equate a nation state like Iran with the nation-hating caliphate of ISIS is to deliberately confuse. The necessary alliance of  the Shiite government of Iraq with their neighboring government - the Islamic Republic of Iran - is providing the reality of "boots on the ground" that everyone agrees is necessary to dislodge the territorial base of ISIS. If Iran is not yet our friend, then certainly they are our co-belligerents. America needs Shia allies in our fight against the twisted form of Sunni Islam incarnated by ISIS and financed by Saudi Arabia. The Prime Minister knows the difference between a Persian and an Arab, a Sunni and a Shia.  He was depending on the abysmal deficit of historical and religious knowledge of our Congress to applaud him as he dismissed the crucial role of Iran in aiding our fight against the enemies of the Iraq government. Iran is part of a larger Islamic civilization. They will be an important part of the overall peaceful solution in the Mideast.

Today, Iran is an enemy of our friend Israel; that does not make them our enemy. Their alliance with the US, Syria, and Iraq against ISIS is an alliance of nation states against the caliphate. We are seeing the first contours of an alliance of Christians, Shia, and Sunni in the civilized form of states striking against the unrestricted caliphate ambitions of ISIS. This is most definitely not "competition for the crown of militant Islam." In the tradition of President Eisenhower and John Foster Dulles during the Suez Crisis of 1956, President Obama and our State Department will have to make clear to our Israeli allies that the enemy of our friend is NOT necessarily the enemy of the United States.

The Saudis are organizing the Sunnis in the Middle East. The Turkish Prime Minister actually condemned the fighting alliance of Shia-Iraq and Shia-Iran in taking back Tikrit from ISIS. He agreed with the bombastic overkill of the Saudi Foreign Minister that "Iran is taking over Iraq." This comes from a Turkey who, as we wrote earlier, has kept its sizable military forces as a bystander in fighting ISIS. There are other Turks who warn against an alliance with Sunni Arabs, seeing Iran as their more natural ally: against an all-Sunni alliance.  Here is how the world looks inside Iraq from a Shiite militia leader. Mr. Netanyahu's speech was well received in Saudi Arabia (which is now in de facto alliance with Israel, playing the American card against Iran -- each for its own reasons.)


Here is a rundown of the nations with nuclear arms. The president and senators supporting him have not yet convincingly refuted Mr. Netanyahu's position on the nuclear negotiations with Iran. It is an argument that can be made; we just haven't heard it yet in the same rhetorical key as the prime minister's address.

Here is a good reminder of some historical ups and downs of the US-Israel relationship from George Friedman at STRATFOR.

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