News broke today of the ghastly death of Jordanian pilot 1st Lt. Muadh al-Kasasbeh, gruesomely burned alive by ISIS terrorists whose actions grow ever more unspeakably evil. Fox’s Catherine Herridge reported this evening that the murder appears to have actually occurred about a month ago, which would have put it before ISIS made demands to Jordan for a prisoner swap for 1st Lt. al-Kasasbeh. As pundit Mara Liasson pointed out during the Fox Special Report panel segment, that means ISIS had zero intention of dealing in good faith on the prisoner swap.
And that means there is no basis for dealing with ISIS at all. There is no commonality of ethos or human understanding between ISIS and the rest of us.
I assume you knew that already. You didn’t expect better – didn’t need convincing. On this matter, the native good sense of the people has been ahead of the mainstream media, and too many of our political and opinion leaders, most of the way. Of course there’s no “dealing with” ISIS. ISIS has to be eradicated like a disease: attacked, isolated, and destroyed.
But we’re not going to do that. If America could suddenly be led by a different president, it would still be possible for us to. We wouldn’t do it by ourselves – although the impossible things we’ve done before demonstrate that we actually could, if we went to a war footing. But we wouldn’t, and we wouldn’t have to. America has the infrastructure – the legacy of expertise, organization, political prestige, alliances, trust in what our nation is, if not in our current leader – to spearhead an effective coalition.
No one else does. ISIS isn’t 10 feet tall; ISIS isn’t even 12 inches tall. ISIS is just the most ruthless actor on a vulnerable and disorganized landscape, one that has never had a history of political unity or organization for decisive military operations. But the reason no one has countered ISIS effectively so far is that no one but the United States can do it.
The indispensable data point
Keep that in mind. No one else can achieve a decisive defeat of ISIS and stabilize Syria and Iraq. I keep saying it because you may well forget it immediately, here in a minute. Without intervention on the American principles of coalition action – flawed as they have been in the execution over the last 70 years – no one can defeat ISIS decisively and settle the Middle East down.
The new, redefined “Munich”
Now, we’re ready to look at the latest revelation from EU officials who are – or, perhaps more accurately, who wish they were – involved in the talks with Iran. The EU officials have reportedly complained that they are being excluded from behind-the-scenes negotiations between the U.S. delegation and the Iranians. And on Tuesday, 3 February, Israeli sources in contact with them reported the outline of a “deal” the Europeans say John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif are working on:
According to EU officials, US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, have discussed increasing the number of centrifuges which Iran would be permitted to keep. In exchange, the Iranians would undertake an obligation to bring their influence to bear in order to ensure quiet in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria.
European diplomats are quoted by Israeli officials as saying that the US in recent weeks has made significant concessions in its talks with Iran, so much so that it is willing to permit Tehran to operate 6,500 centrifuges while lifting sanctions that have hurt its economy this past decade.
The Europeans have told the Israelis that these concessions were offered in exchange for Iranian promises to maintain regional stability. According to Army Radio, the EU is opposed to the proposed linkage between the nuclear issue and other geopolitical matters. In fact, the Europeans suspect that Washington is operating behind Brussels’ back and that Kerry has not bothered to keep them in the loop in his talks with Zarif.
Whether you think this is a good idea or a bad one – and some observers might (wrongly) call such a gambit with Iran an act of realpolitik – the important thing is that Iran can’t handle Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria. Iran can’t “ensure quiet” in those nations – not even one of them at a time – or “maintain regional stability.” The most Iran can do is conclude cynical deals with local, sub-national allies; deploy force in non-decisive ways that keep bloodshed going; hold cities and villages in terror, in the manner of Hamas and Hezbollah; and chase actual fighters for independence or nationalism around for years at a time.
Iran can also carve out patches of territory secure enough to forward-deploy conventional military hardware like fighter aircraft, ballistic missiles, and submarines, which would allow the mullahs to menace global commerce and Western interests. But Iran doesn’t have the capability to consolidate and pacify the territory between her borders and the borders of Jordan and Lebanon.
Making this deal with Iran would, in fact, guarantee an explosion of countermoves in the region. There are numerous factions large and small that would never agree to a permanent settlement that left Iran in the ascendant. Many of them would form temporary alliances with Iran along the way (e.g., some of the Kurds, some of the Arabs, some of the jihadis). But none of them actually plans to live under an Iranian caliphate.
The fighting would therefore continue. A move like this would certainly break up NATO with the exit, sooner or later, of Turkey. Turkey will not let Iran gain power and position to her south and east. The constraints of the NATO alliance would have to be thrown off.
To think that Russia and China would make common cause in the region, moreover, is to misunderstand the dynamic between them. Russia and China will compete there, even when they are acting temporarily in concert: Russia because she can’t let China encircle her, China because she can’t let Russia cut her off.
No one of these actors can impose order on the region; its peoples would suffer not just under jihadis, but under blocs evanescing among Iran, Turkey, and Egypt – the regional powers, with significant coastlines, that can muster big populations and armies – and China, Russia, and quite probably a quietly resurgent Germany. The feeding frenzy in Mesopotamia would spread across the entire Eastern hemisphere.
If you wanted to accelerate the collapse of the Eurozone (and effectively of the EU itself), and goad Japan and India to arm up on an emergency basis, this would be the way to do it: subordinating U.S. power in Mesopotamia and South Asia to an arrangement with revolutionary Iran. If Obama actually concludes a deal with this outline, “Munich” won’t even be a touchstone for geopolitical admonition anymore. We’ll measure everything in the future against the foolishness of this reported 2015 proposal with Iran.
Perhaps it won’t happen. But surely we’ve reached the point at which most observers realize that it actually could. A piece this week by Victor Davis Hanson at NRO will, I think, give even the most reluctant analysts permission to cut the tether with conventional expectations about the Obama administration. Many of us saw long before VDH wrote this article that the Obama foreign policy team really doesn’t work from traditionally American objectives. But now, at last, someone of VDH’s stature has articulated that reality, and we can stop pretending that it’s intemperate to say it. The truth is, it’s irresponsible at this point not to say it.
This administration might, in fact, sign on to such a profoundly awful deal. It can’t be a “Munich” deal, because there’s no handing the Middle East over to a hegemon with outsize power, radical intentions, and the capacity for rapid territorial conquest. There is no such hegemon. The deal Kerry is reportedly working on would hand the Middle East over to something different – something more diffuse and factional, although just as bloody and destabilizing. If such a deal is made, the reign of 1938 in our geopolitical “tribal consciousness” will be over, and 2015 will begin writing its tale of horror and rebuke.