Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Congress and the presidents alike have had no sustained policy review to establish militarily achievable objectives, coherent political goals, or even a workable definition of “the enemy” to guide lawmakers and military leaders.
Republicans and Democrats both removed governments with no plan for succession or the societal stresses and open warfare that would ensue. Without an updated Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), we “plinked terrorists” in various countries with drones or airplanes, assassinating at least four American citizens, and killing others as “collateral damage.”
American soldiers have been killed fighting in various countries, including several in Africa. We are spending billions “training” various militaries and militias and hoping they will fight who and how we want them to. Iran’s backing of rebels in Yemen is called the “Saudi war” to avoid dealing with the implications. The “Israel-Palestinian conflict” is to be resolved by creating an extra Arab state while the Palestinians definitively and publicly want to resolve it by eliminating the Jewish one.
President Trump ran against American military involvement in Syria and Afghanistan, and for a hard line on Iran. There is still no complete policy — and sometimes not even a particularly well-articulated policy — but it does appear that America’s focus has changed from retail to wholesale. From executing individual terrorists and recapturing pieces of territory to operating against the malign influence that funds and organizes large-scale Shiite — and Sunni — terror. From terror groups to a terror country.
After years of silence, in his “exit interview” as IDF Chief of Staff, LTG Gadi Eisenkot detailed Israel’s strikes against Iranian targets in Syria, explaining that Israel’s goal had always been to prevent the establishment of Iranian bases and missile factories there. “We struck thousands of targets,” he said, and the Iranians – unable to ensure their own security against Israeli air superiority – have been moving out. As if to punctuate his comments, Israel stuck a series of buildings at Damascus International Airport said to house a secret Iranian intelligence facility.
The administration has firmly supported Israel’s position.
European governments, despite their announced intention to follow the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, or “Iran deal”) have been trending a harder line since Trump’s re-imposition of sanctions on Iran, and particularly since the discovery of at least two Iranian-sponsored assassination plots on European soil. In a recent meeting, officials from countries including France, Britain, and Germany, told Iranian envoys that Europe would not tolerate Iran’s ballistic missile tests or aggressive behavior. The Iranians walked out.
The Warsaw conference is scheduled for mid-February; 70 countries were invited, including Israel and all of the EU members, but not Iran. A State Department announcement said the meeting “will address a range of critical issues including terrorism and extremism, missile development and proliferation, maritime trade and security, and threats posed by proxy groups across the region.” Code for Iran.
Iran denounced the conference as a “desperate anti-Iran circus,” but the “circus” is taking place in the middle of Europe. Iran’s oil exports have fallen 60 percent since last spring, and are likely to fall further as the original waivers on certain major oil importers are about to expire. Now the prospect of reduced relations with Europe – particularly Germany – has to be bone chilling for the Mullahs.
Secretary Pompeo’s swing through the Middle East was, in part, to solidify American relations with its Sunni allies and assure them that their concerns about Iran are, in fact, America’s concerns. But he had two other messages. First, that Israel is a partner in American thinking and planning — something the Arab states need to hear from the American government. Secondly, they need to know that the American military is a partner, not the answer to other countries’ problems. “We will continue to assist … and ‘assist’ is the key phrase,” Pompeo said.
The policy as it is emerging is far from perfect. Some friends of the United States are rightly unhappy that the American focus on Iran may lower the heat on the increasingly radical and aggressive but still-NATO-ally Turkey. That would be a mistake and could make the president’s other goals more difficult to achieve. But after 20 years of playing “whack-a-mole” against terrorists, the U.S. has finally focused on the source of chaos across the Middle East: Iran.