Friday, July 04, 2014

The Islamic Caliphate: the Obama Administration’s Failed Foreign Policy in The Middle East

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American political scientist and scholar, is president of the International American Council and he serves on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University. Rafizadeh is also a senior fellow at Nonviolence International Organization based in Washington DC and a member of the Gulf project at Columbia University. He has been a recipient of several scholarships and fellowship including from Oxford University, Annenberg University, University of California Santa Barbara, and Fulbright Teaching program. He served as ambassador for the National Iranian-American Council based in Washington DC, conducted research at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and taught at University of California Santa Barbara through Fulbright Teaching Scholarship. He can be reached at

Dr. Rafizadeh is a regular commentator for national and international outlets including CNN, BBC TV and radio, ABC, Fox News, MSNBC, CNBC, RT, CCTV and Aljazeera English. He is frequently quoted in major news outlets including CNN, BBC, Aljazeera and he regularly writes for both academic and non-academic papers such as New York Times International, Foreign Policy, Aljazeera,  Los Angeles Times, The Nation, The Atlantic, Newsweek, Yale Journal of International Affairs, Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, George Washington International Review, to name a few. Follow Dr. Rafizadeh at @majidrafizadeh.

isis-EIILAs the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (or Islamic Caliphate) pushes across Iraq and other countries in the region, and as they score unprecedented victories in order to establish their Islamic Caliphate, the Obama administration remains indecisive and hesitant to take any assertive position.
Due to their military advancements and practical vision (in contrast to more theoretical underpinnings  of Al-Qaeda), ISIL has been capable of attracting more Jihadist, young people, and wealthy donors who would like to see the establishment of an Islamist Caliphate stretching from Iraq to the West.

While addressing US foreign policy towards the Middle East, President Barack Obama stated, “it is in our national security interests not to see an all-out civil war inside of Iraq, not just for humanitarian reasons, but because that ultimately can be destabilizing throughout the region”.
Nevertheless, the major issue is that, beyond this nice rhetoric, what are the real and concrete actions taken by President Obama and his administration to prevent the unprecedented rise of Islamists, protect US allies in the region, preserve US security, geopolitical, economic and national interest as well as prevent the destabilization of the region and oil market?
America’s rivals have been the most assertive, decisive, and conclusive when it comes to preserving their national, geopolitical and strategic interests.
The easiest approach for the Obama administration has been to apply a “wait and see” foreign policy, hide behind other regional and global powers, and publicly indicate the declining influence and power of the US on a global stage.
According to New York Times,  Russia is currently sending 12 warplanes to the Iraqi government as well as advisory assistance by its military experts.
For Moscow, the crucial foreign policy objective that lead its indirect intervention and advisory and military assistance to the Iraqi government is linked to rebuking United States influence in the region by delivering arms rapidly. Several Iraqi politicians have long complained that the timetable which United States has used to deliver weapons and aircraft is very slow.
From the perspectives of Russian leaders, this is a clear  opportunity and opening to show the declining power of the US.  While Washington appears to be indecisive to take action, Moscow has projected its power and the assertiveness of its foreign policies toward the Middle East.
According to Haaretz: “On Friday, Iraqi Air Force Commander Hameed al-Maliki confirmed that he had signed contracts for the purchase of Russian MI-35 and MI-28 attack helicopter to “keep up the momentum” in the attacks against the Sunni insurgents, Ruptly news agency reported….. At the same time, Maliki criticized the United States for taking too long to deliver F-16 jets ordered by Iraq.”
Russia has also tilted toward the Shia powers in the region. Although Russia supports both secular Sunni governments and Shia groups in the Middle East, it’s foreign policies has favored Shiite powers recently due to their public resistance towards United States and other Western powers.
Moreover, the Syrian government has joined the Islamic Republic  in backing the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to fight with Sunni insurgents. According to Wall Street Journal, Bashar Al-Assad’s government has utilized its warplanes to carry out airstrikes in the western part of Iraq.
The Islamic Republic is also intervening with its home-made drones and troops on the ground from the elite Iranian units of Revolutionary Guards Corps. Ghasem Soleimani, the commander of the Qods Force (a section of the IRGC), is apparently running the show in Iraq.
On the other hand, the Syrian government of Bashar Al-Assad mostly pursues the foreign policy agenda and objectives of the Islamic Republic, when it comes to addressing the Iraqi conflict. In addition, the major objective for Damascus is thwarting the raising power of Islamic State of Iraq and Levant which can threaten the hold on power of the Syrian regime in a long-term.
We can also argue that the lack of decisiveness and clarity in President Obama’s Middle East foreign policy is contributing to the rise of one of the most robust, organized, and coordinated terrorist and radical group which can destabilize of the whole region.
It goes without saying that US underlying objectives in the Middle East are to serve its national, geopolitical and strategic interests, ensuring the stability of oil market, backing up its strategic allies, including Israel, and preventing destabilization of the region by rise of extremists and fundamentalist groups. However, the foreign policies of Obama’s administration have never been carried out or articulated clearly.
Instead, currently, the US is finding herself hiding behind the Islamic Republic, Syria and Russia and hoping that these countries will resolve the crisis in Iraq and Syria.
Unfortunately, President Barack Obama has not yet learned a lesson from his leadership failures in Syria. Obama adminsitration still avoids taking any responsibility or holding assertive and decisive position.
Unlike Russia, Syria, and the Islamic Republic in which hold assertive, conclusive and clear foreign policies when it comes to their power manifestation, balance of power and preserving their interests in the region,  Obama’s administration has never articulated a  clear foreign policy agenda towards the crisis in Iraq, Syria, or Middle East in general.

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