To Western minds a djinn, or genie, is a positive or even comic figure. If you are of my generation you think of Barbara Eden
. If you are younger you will think of Walt Disney films filled with beautiful princesses and scenes of the Arabian Nights.
But in Middle Eastern tradition a djinn is nothing so positive. It is a malevolent spirit up to mischief at a minimum and evil at worst. Satan is a djinn.
In that sense, the Obama administration let the djinn out of the bottle. That djinn is the Islamic Republic of Iran, and without question it is a malevolent spirit
Since the fall of the Shah in 1979 the United States has followed a policy of containment with regard to the Islamic Republic. In pursuit of that policy we supported Sunni Arab governments throughout the Middle East, mindful of the longstanding enmity between Arabs and Persians. The policy has not been perfect. We made a myriad of missteps. We have missed many opportunities to push Sunni leaders toward democratic reform and liberalization.
Nevertheless, for forty years that policy of containment has worked. It has restrained the government in Tehran. It has ensured stability in the region.
The Obama administration has abandoned that policy. Under the terrifyingly naïve belief that Tehran can somehow be a force for good and stability in the region, they watched a resurgent Iran, emboldened by a disastrous nuclear deal and its flood of cash, extend its tentacles and influence from Damascus to Beirut to Sana’a. The results have been catastrophic.
In Yemen a civil war rages in which Houthi rebels armed, trained and directed by Tehran have forced the intervention of Saudi forces and troops from other Gulf nations. Bahrain has been so threatened by Iranian actions that the Saudis were forced to intervene militarily there as well, and Manama has now broken diplomatic relations with Iran. Both Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates have arrested and tried Iranian operatives on their soil. Inside Saudi Arabia itself there are regular roundups of dozens of Iranian agents aiming to destabilize the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia and so threaten the world’s oil supply.
Abu Mohammad al-Adnani al-Shami
Shaykh Abu Mohammad al-Adnani al-Shami, whose original name was Taha Subhi Falaha, is the official spokesman and a senior leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and its primary conduit for communicating official messages. He is also the emir of ISIL in Syria. | Photo: Archives |
In Iraq the results are even more nightmarish. Following the Obama administration’s precipitous withdrawal in 2011, an Iranian-backed and directed government and its hirelings, the Shia militia, ran amok and undid the achievements of the Sunni Awakening. In the process it ripped open anew the fissure between Iraqi Sunni and Shia. Out of that rupture exploded ISIS -- Al Qaida in Iraq by another name. Iraq lost control of a huge portion of its territory and is now fighting for its life.
In the history of American foreign policy there are very few geopolitical missteps that have had such disastrous results. Even the Vietnam War, as bloody and traumatic as it was, did not do significant and lasting damage to American national security in the long term. Forty years after that war the Soviet Union has ceased to exist, China and Vietnam are at each other's throats, and the United States is in the early stages of forming an alliance with its former adversary, the Republic of Vietnam.
Measured that way, it is remarkable how damaging the actions of the Obama administration have been. We have abandoned long-standing allies on the Arabian Peninsula, destabilized the region, and emboldened an enemy that wants to destroy us. We cannot walk away from those repercussions. We, and our grandchildren, will be dealing with them for a generation.
In perhaps the most bizarre twist in this sad tale, the Obama administration has begun to push Saudi Arabia and the other states of the Arabian Peninsula to agree to pick up the cost, financial and otherwise, of dealing with the chaos that our failed Iran policy has unleashed.
U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is visiting the United Arab Emirates this weekend as part of a six-day tour aimed at pressuring the Gulf States to help pay the tab for the damage done in Iraq by a disastrously misguided US policy toward Iran.
The response Carter receives remains to be seen. The Arab nations will no doubt be guided by sober assessments of their long-term interests and available options. One must assume, however, that the temptation will be great on the part of the Saudis and other Arab states to remind us that we are the ones who let the djinn out of the bottle, and that we are the ones who should bear the cost of dealing with the consequences.