Never mind the negotiations with Iran over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear weapons program. Far more urgent developments are afoot. While the foreign ministers were busily counting how many centrifuges could spin in Iranian facilities, President Obama and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have arranged a working relationship throughout the Middle East that effectively puts American policy at the service of Iran.
Long the goal of Obama, who sent a private emissary to Tehran as early as the 2008 election campaign to tell the Khamenei regime he wanted to be their friend, there is now a de facto alliance between the two countries. Notwithstanding the often nasty rhetoric from the two capitals, the United States is very careful not to challenge Iranian interests in hot spots like Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
- In Syria, despite numerous threats and promises to arm Sunni militias who are fighting the regime of Iran’s close ally, President Bashar Assad, very little assistance has reached Syrian opposition forces. That is in keeping with what Khamenei has called the single-most important Iranian strategic objective: the victory of Assad. Iran has committed many thousand soldiers and intelligence officers to defend Assad, and Iranian casualties — extremely unpopular among the restive domestic population — are substantial, including at least two generals.
U.S. bombing in Syria is carefully limited to Assad’s enemies; no level of slaughter has been deemed sufficient for U.S. action against the Syrian forces or their allies. Obama even tolerates the use of chemical weapons.
The Obama administration officially denies it is working closely with Tehran. As Michael Doran has pointed out, the White House and State Department have jumped through very high linguistic hoops to obscure the closeness of U.S.-Iranian coordination: “No, we’re not going to coordinate,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in reference to Iran’s client Assad and the military campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). “We will certainly want to de-conflict … but we’re not going to coordinate.”
- In Iraq, the Iranian regime now effectively calls the shots in several crucial areas, especially in the oil-rich south around Basra. Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani and former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad long denied the presence of Iranian armed forces in Iraq, but in recent months the Revolutionary Guards’ infamous leader, General Qassem Soleimani, has posed for photographs all over the country, “under the cover of the [U.S.] Air Force,” as Tony Badram reminds us:
“Soleimani models in different settings. … There’s the jovial Hajj Qassem dancing, weapon in hand, with Iraqi forces. Then there’s Soleimani the General visiting his men on the front, shaking hands with Peshmerga from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan or with fighters from the Shiite militias he runs.”
Tehran military leaders repeatedly brag about their active role. American armed forces are in Iraq, but Washington insists their mission is strictly defensive: They will defend American diplomats and facilities, not engage in actually fighting Baghdad’s enemies. On-ground control is thus ceded to Iran.
- Iran has taken effective control of Yemen. The capital, Sanaa, is festooned with banners and posters bearing the Hezbollah imprimatur and pictures of the late Ayatollah Khomeini alongside slogans such as “Death to America, death to Israel, a curse on the Jews and victory to Islam.” This gives Tehran control over the Gulf of Aden, and thus the Persian Gulf and access to the Suez Canal. While countless strategists have warned about the centrality of the Straits of Hormuz for the world’s oil supplies, control over the Gulf of Aden is even more threatening. Washington has been conspicuously low-key about this blow to Western interests and the significant Iranian advance. Nor have we taken any meaningful steps to stop, let alone reverse, the Iranian coup.
Nuclear deal or not, American collaboration with Iran is extremely dangerous, as Khamenei pushes for greater hegemony in the Middle East and, indeed, worldwide. Mohammed Ali Jaafari, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards Corps, made this clear in a recent speech about the Guards’ role in exporting the Iranian Revolution:
“The mission of the Ghods Force is external, to help Islamic movements, to expand the revolution and to provide assistance to suffering people across the world … and to people who need help in such countries as Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. The Guards … views its duty to support and defend the nations under the hegemony of America and Israel and to provide them any technology, something that is even more important than the transfer of weapons.”
Do we really want an alliance with such a regime? Is the spread of the Iranian Revolution a legitimate goal of American foreign policy? If not, our collaboration with Tehran must stop.
Ledeen, the author of more than 30 books, is the Freedom Scholar at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He was special adviser to former Secretary of State Alexander Haig and a consultant to the national security adviser during the Reagan administration.