As Iraq teeters on disintegration, some on Capitol Hill are floating the idea of collaborating with Iran in order to defeat the threat posed by the terror group Islamic State (ISIS). But, would this really serve American interests?
The suggestion is that the U.S. and Iran both regard ISIS as an enemy, and therefore are potential allies in the fight against it.
As dangerous as ISIS is, our would-be partners in Tehran present an even greater security threat to the region and America’s core interests. Confronting the immediate threat of ISIS would be counterproductive if it also empowers an even greater threat.
The policy’s advocates admit that collaboration with Iran and Syria would give these weakening regimes a longer lease on life. It could also prolong the atrocities in Syria.
ISIS needs to be dealt with. But not through forging a dangerous alliance with the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism.
In fact, the Iranian regime’s destructive meddling in Iraq and Syria created a breeding ground for violence and the rise of ISIS.
Tehran encouraged former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to shut Sunnis and other minorities out of government, destabilizing the government that the U.S. had helped put in place, and creating deep Sunni minority resentments, some of which have been hijacked by ISIS. Simultaneously, Iran’s influence over Maliki left the Christian and Yazidi communities unprotected in the north, allowing ISIS to ethnic cleanse them this summer.
There is no doubt that the U.S. can help local forces including the Kurdish Peshmerga beat back the Jihadi offensive in northern Iraq. But it needs a broad strategy that is informed by the fact that the regional crisis will not simply end with the defeat of ISIS. The more fundamental threats in Tehran and Damascus need to be countered.
Terrorism and forces of instability will simply find new outlets as long as Tehran continues to meddle and yield control over Iraq. Maliki practically put himself at the service of the Iranian regime, most visibly with his attacks on Iranian dissidents in camps Ashraf and Liberty.
A decision to empower one form of evil against another is based on either a short-sighted misunderstanding of global security issues, or sheer panic. As terrible as the ISIS rampage is in Iraq and Syria, it is a threat that we can meet effectively and without the need to make a deal with the devil.
Iran are part of the problem, not the solution. There is a laundry list of other nations and non-state actors to consider ahead of these options. The vast majority of them are recognizably interested in containing the spread of the Islamic State.
Ironically the regime in Tehran has declared that it does not consider ISIS to be a direct threat. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and others understand that ISIS is a threat to the very structure of their governments, the stability of their overwhelmingly Sunni populations, and the continuity of their regional interests.
For all the flaws in these other potential partners, their interests frequently align with those of the U.S. By contrast, Iran is a font of bombastic, anti-Western rhetoric. Its Revolutionary Guards regularly talk of war with the West, pursue nuclear weapons, and are capable of shooting down American and Israeli drones or sinking American warships. Meanwhile, the nation’s oil economy is focused on non-Western buyers as it strives to evade U.S.-led sanctions, rather than making an earnest effort to become part of the global community.
It is no secret that the regime in Iran does not share American values and is far from a liberal democracy. It is rather a terror sponsoring state that systematically violates the rights of millions of citizens, pursues nuclear weapons, and is bent on regional domination.
Why should a reasonable policymaker look past all of the other ready partners in the Middle East and instead choose to collaborate with such a regime? Why jump from the frying pan into the fire?
Dr. Walid Phares is the author of “The Lost Spring: US Policy in the Middle East and Catastrophes to Avoid” and served as foreign affairs and Middle East advisor to presidential candidate Mitt Romney.