Obama Finally Coming to Grips with Middle East’s Realities

Monday, September 15, 2014

Ardeshir Zare’i-Qanavati
Expert on International Relations

Recent statements by the US President Barack Obama in an interview with the NBC news corporation have been taken as the sign of Washington’s firm resolve to fight the ISIS terrorist group. When explaining Washington’s new strategy for containment of the ISIS, Obama showed that his administration has overcome its past doubts and has made up its mind on this issue. The main point about this interview is the effort made by the White House leaders to stay as far away as possible from geopolitical disputes and political confrontations that revolve around the conflicts between Shias and Sunnis in the region. This issue has been a cause of tension between Tehran and Washington during the past years. During the same interview, Obama clearly said, “And the good news is, I think, for the, perhaps the first time, you have absolute clarity that the problem for Sunni states in the region, many of whom are our allies, is not simply Iran. It's not simply a Sunni-Shia issue.” These remarks can be considered as the sign of a turning point in the US administration’s approach toward the developments in the Middle East. While inviting conservative Sunni states of the Middle East such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, which are also considered as US allies, to cooperate in the fight against the ISIS , Obama emphasized that the main threat to those countries is not posed by a Shia Iran, but by Sunni extremism and the fundamentalist terrorism spearheaded by the ISIS:

Well, I think that it is absolutely true that we're going to need Sunni states to step up, not just Saudi Arabia, our partners like Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey. They need to be involved. This is their neighborhood. The dangers that are posed are-- are more directed at them right now than they are us.

His words, which came as the announcement of Washington’s primary strategy toward the ongoing developments in the Middle East, have been somehow considered as a sign that the White House is giving up its past strategies, which were based on the confrontation between Iran and traditional allies of the United States in the region. The introduction of the ISIS into regional developments and cooperation between Tehran and Washington for the facilitation of national reconciliation in Iraq as well as the common interests that the two countries have in fighting the ISIS have all worked to make the United States see new realities on the ground, which are powerful enough to change many of previous equations. Undoubtedly, this important interview and explanation of the United States’ new strategy in the Middle East, the details of which were announced on Wednesday, are telltale signs of a major about-face in US policy on the basis of objective realities. Therefore, at least in technical terms, such a change is expected to signal a new round of cooperation between the two countries, which have remained hostile to each other for the better part of the past 35 years.

The mere fact that in his interview, Obama has clearly described Sunni countries in the Middle East as the US allies and warned them against the threat posed by growing extremism and Salafism as the most important threat facing them, is in fact indicative of a major revision of the past US strategy, which had already prompted Washington to even support all kinds of terrorist groups in Syria where they were fighting the Syrian President Bashar Assad. It is true that the new strategy is not being carried out in a vacuum and will have practical effects in reality. Therefore, there is no doubt that it will have consequences and aftereffects which can be considered very important. This is also a clear signal to the Iranian side and an indirect invitation for cooperation in fighting the threat posed by the ISIS.

Also, the fact that Obama addresses his country’s allies in the region, reminding them that Iran is no more the main threat they are facing, but warning them at the same time against the threat from the ISIS or Sunni extremism, is both an announcement of a change in the US position toward Iran and a signal to his country’s Sunni allies to avoid further intensification of tension with Iran. When it comes to the implementation of the United States new strategy in the Middle East, there is no doubt that Obama will have no other choice, but to go back over his past policy toward Iran and prepare necessary grounds for cooperation with the Islamic Republic. Of course, indirect cooperation between Iran and the United States has been already extant in fighting against the ISIS and has been manifest in both countries’ efforts to provide necessary support for the Iraqi government and Kurdish Peshmerga forces. However, with the new approach taken by Washington to collaboration with Iran, that cooperation can become closer and more pronounced than any time before.

In the past months, the insistence shown by the former Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri Al-Maliki, to remain in office had led to emergence of a certain form of unity among various Sunni and Kurdish factions in Iraq as well as regional and international allies of the United States at the cost of more divergence between Tehran and Washington. However, as a result of new developments, especially with regard to the United States cooperation with Iran to forge a kind of national reconciliation in Iraq, the position of Iran in current regional equations has been elevated to such a high level that even Washington feels the need to reach out to Tehran for cooperation over regional issues. Washington’s objective experience has clearly shown to the US officials that Tehran enjoys the biggest potential to defeat the ISIS as the two countries’ common enemy. They also know that the key to Tehran’s cooperation is, to a large extent, in the hands of the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, pending agreement of other powerful institutions in the Islamic Republic.

During the past 35 years, it had become habitual for the United States to “throw the ball” into Iran's court and Washington kept doing it all the time. At present, however, it seems that at least with regard to the dangerous phenomenon of extremism and terrorism, which is being spearheaded by the ISIS in the Middle East, this time around, Obama is playing in a different court and the balls he is throwing are targeting goals of the United States’ traditional allies in the region as well as geopolitical rivals of Iran. This important turnaround in the United States Middle East policy can be considered a strategic change of course, which can be also seen as offering a historical opportunity to Tehran. Therefore, in this critical historical juncture, the Iranian diplomacy should show suitable reaction to this new development with special sensitivity and by adopting a pragmatic policy in order to be able to both protect the country’s national interests and continue implementing its strategic policy in the region. By doing this, the Islamic Republic of Iran will be able to turn the ISIS threat into an objective opportunity for further strengthening of its stability and national security.

Key Words: Barack Obama, Middle East’s Realities, ISIS Terrorist Group, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Iraqi Government, Kurdish Peshmerga Forces, Geopolitical Rivals of Iran, Zare’i-Qanavati

Source: Shargh Daily
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

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