“Having been created by Islamic supremacism, AQI/ISIS was nurtured by Iran. Notwithstanding the internecine bloodletting that now pits Sunnis against Shiites across the region, Shiite Iran has been the key supporter of both Shiite and Sunni jihadist groups since its revolutionary incarnation as “the Islamic Republic” in 1979. It has backed Sunni al-Qaeda and Hamas, as well as Shiite Hezbollah and a network of Shiite terror cells in Iraq. Its only requirement has been that jihadists of whatever stripe advance Iran’s interests by taking the fight to the U.S. and Israel.” ~ Andrew McCarthy in “Rand Paul has a point about Republicans and ISIS,” National Review, May 30, 2015
It’s hard to keep a decent score card to understand the conflicts of the Middle East—and there are temptations to oversimplify the complexities. I am as guilty as most in doing so, as illustrated by my last week’s short-handing of very complex relationships in noting: “Iran is already allied with ISIS in Iraq and Syria—and also with Russia, by the way.”
I prefer to call the current main opponent in our fight in the Middle East ISIS for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria—the administration refers to them as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and others just as the Islamic State or IS. I hope they will be stopped in Iraq and Syria, their main current battlefield—but alas they have global ambitions, including in America. It is sobering to note that hope is not a strategy.
Did I Misspeak?
Last week’s comment was made while also listing many of the administration’s inter-related foreign policy failures—and I did not want to go into a lot of detail, thinking folks would understand my reference to the complexities of unscrambling the role of the current Iranian regime, arguably the most dangerous of our adversaries in the Middle East. But perhaps I assumed too much for my readers’ understanding and that comment could mislead them, as was evidenced in some responses I received.
So . . . let me elaborate a bit this week, and also note other oversimplifications that confuse rather than explain the difficulties we face in ever peacefully ending conflicts in the Middle East.
My short-handing was intended to exploit that Iran’s policies with various players in the Middle East (and elsewhere) are tempered by the conflicts in which they engage, from their own perspective of the moment. In the over-riding conflict between East and West, Iranian and ISIS leaders have the same objective—the destruction of the Little Satan Israel and the Great Satan America. They are most definitely allied in this most important sense—lest we forget.
In the current local battles, Iran may fear ISIS encroachment on its territory or its challenge for overall leadership in creating a global Caliphate. So Iran may fight against ISIS. Iran may even join the Great Satan America in fighting ISIS. Indeed, some U.S. airstrikes may be intended to support Iranian “boots on the ground” in fighting ISIS attempts to establish “their” Caliphate, at least in Iraq and Syria. And these “arrangements” should be placed in a larger context.
It’s unclear what relationships will evolve—especially since our diplomats are engaged with these issues while seeking a “deal” to limit Iran’s steady pace toward a nuclear weapons capability with which to destroy both the Little and Great Satan. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu calls it a “bad deal” since it only legitimizes the Iranian path to nuclear weapons and apparently permits further modernization of the capability to produce the critical nuclear materials—never mind the issues of dubious verification measures for monitoring the deal. The Prime Minister has a point.
Furthermore, this negotiation with Iran is in the P5+1 venue that allies the U.S. with Russia (Iran’s ally), China (Russia’s ally) and others (Great Britain, France, and Germany). Complicating this picture is the fact that Russia is a long-standing ally of Iran and Syria—and President Obama essentially turned over leadership in the Middle East to Russian President Vladimir Putin when reneging on his “red line” threat if Syria crossed a Chemical Weapons line a couple of years ago.
I did mention that Russia has long been an ally of Iran, right? And Syria?
So . . . that’s a few more words to back up last week’s claim that “Iran is already allied with ISIS in Iraq and Syria—and also with Russia, by the way.”
By the way, either Iran or ISIS (or others) could present us with an existential threat, by taking down our vulnerable electric grid by some combination of physical, cyber or electromagnetic pulse(EMP) attack—or they could join forces to do it together. Such an alliance to defeat a common enemy would not be an unheard of strategy. That was the context of my comment last week—that ISIS might use an “Islamic” nuclear weapon from Iran—or Pakistan—to attack us, not entirely an academic suggestion since the word is that ISIS is seeking to obtain a nuclear weapon.
Also, CIA Director John Brennan reconfirmed on Sunday that ISIS is present in the United States, just as the FBI has previously stated might be the case—in all fifty states. And the Taliban-5 which we traded for the deserter, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, are now free to go after spending their allotted time in Qatar.
But I digress.
Shia vs. Sunni?
My second point is that some who commented on my last week’s message oversimplified the complexities. For example, in objecting to my shorthand claim one commenter noted that “ISIS is most definitely not allied with Iran … the former is Sunni and the latter Shia, and they are battling each other in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere to see who will govern the Islamic Caliphate.”
To be sure, there is a longstanding conflict (since the seventh century) between those who follow the Sunni and Shia strains of Islam. But consider a few examples of why this comment is an oversimplification and witness to the fact that Iran plays on both sides of the net in choosing with whom it allies while seeking the common goal of both Sunni and Shia “true believers.” And that those conditions are transient.
- Iran is a very dangerous enemy. It and/or its surrogates have killed many American troops on the recent battlefields of the Middle East. Their acts of terrorism can be traced back many years, e.g., including to the Marine barracks that in 1983 killed 241 in Beruit, Lebanon; to the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia that in 1996 killed 19 airmen and wounded about 500 of all nationalities; to the USS Cole off the coast of Yemen in 2000 that killed 17 and wounded 39 seaman; and I could go on. Arguably, our lack of response to these attacks was a prelude to—and warning of—the 9/11 attack by al Qaeda, a warning to which we paid no attention.
- Iran has long supported both Hezbollah (Shia), which grew out of the 1979 Iranian revolution and is a model for terrorist groups around the world (Click here for a brief summary of Hezbollah history, plans and programs) and Hamas (Sunni) in firing thousands of rockets from Gaza into Israel among other things (Click here for a summary of the Hamas Charter). Most of the population of Iran and Iraq is Shia—and most of Syria is Sunni. Sunni ISIS is taking on both as a step toward reestablishing its version of a global Caliphate.
- There are splits within ideologies; e.g., ISIS is a spin-off of Sunni al Qaeda, rejected by mainline al Qaeda over a disagreement of means not ends—al Qaeda considered ISIS to be too extreme. Both draw their heritage from the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia—Wahhabism has been widely exported around the world, including to numerous madrassas within the United States, no doubt American sources for those who join ISIS overseas—or engage in homegrown terrorism in the USA.
- Most of the 9/11 terrorist were Saudis. Yet Saudi Arabia, along with other Sunni states, is generally considered to be an ally in our fight against “radical” Islam. Would they be except for their oil? Is it “The enemy of my enemy is my friend?” Or “The enemy of my enemy is my enemy?” Good questions, don’t you think? (Click here for an interesting undated New York Times OpEd discussion of this question.)
- There are also divisions within Shia Iran. Evidence of that fact was the 2009 Green Movement that failed in seeking an elected alternative to the military and security apparatus under the direct supervision of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. No doubt, these political interests in reform still exist within Iran, but so far the United States has not found an effective way to press toward empowering these elements—and the current negotiations show no particular indications of a change in direction. Perhaps the 2010 advice of some for moderation in Iran will bear fruit, but I would not hold my breath as Iran’s march toward nuclear weapons continues still under the control of Ayatollah Khamenei.
- Conditions do change—and not always for the better. For example, Turkey’s reform within the Sunni ranks began in the wake of World War I and the end of the Ottoman Empire. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, a military hero, became President and with strong support from the military ranks pressed for and achieved a secular state that became a valued NATO ally during the Cold War. On several occasions, the Turkish military reclaimed the government when it waivered from Atatürk’s vision and restored secular dominance to Turkey’s society. This dynamic changed markedly with the election of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as Prime Minister and his 2011 purge of the military and move toward a non-secular strict version of Islam in the affairs of Turkey. Turkey now is joining in the fight against ISIS—most recently, the U.S is reportedly training forces in Turkey to fight ISIS in Syria. Still, some justifiably question the role of Turkey as a NATO ally—especially given its business dealings that potentially threaten NATO’s viability. For example, Turkey’s dealings with China could compromise secret aspects of NATO’s military systems. Stay tuned.
- Then there’s the Muslim Brotherhood, which began slightly later in Egypt in 1928. Also a Sunni organization, it has spawned a number of other Islamic organizations spreading a dangerous “Stealth Jihad” to largely oblivious Western Civilization, especially within the United States. Among others, through the so-called Arab Spring movement, it prompted a hopeful uprising that ousted our ally Hosni Mubarak as Egypt’s President in 2011—and when Mohammed Morsi was elected President of Egypt in 2012, the Muslim Brotherhood took over. Subsequent events that curtailed Egyptians freedoms prompted a military coup in 2013 and the election of its current leader, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, as President in 2014. Morsi was jailed and recently received a death sentence for his crimes. After being waylaid for three years, Egypt is again friendly to U.S. interests. And the Muslim Brotherhood continues to spread its poison around the world.
These issues are well understood and described by Andy McCarthy, who as an Assistant U.S. Attorney led the successful 1995 prosecution against Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and eleven others, convicted of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and planning a series of attacks against other New York City landmarks. He also helped prosecute the terrorists who bombed US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Since resigning from the Justice Department in 2003, he writes regularly for National Review on related issues and is the author of several books pertinent to this discussion. He addressed my above points in his May 30 National Review article, as follows:
“Having been created by Islamic supremacism, AQI/ISIS was nurtured by Iran. Notwithstanding the internecine bloodletting that now pits Sunnis against Shiites across the region, Shiite Iran has been the key supporter of both Shiite and Sunni jihadist groups since its revolutionary incarnation as “the Islamic Republic” in 1979. It has backed Sunni al-Qaeda and Hamas, as well as Shiite Hezbollah and a network of Shiite terror cells in Iraq. Its only requirement has been that jihadists of whatever stripe advance Iran’s interests by taking the fight to the U.S. and Israel.”
I am no expert, and Andy’s concurrence with my point of view is comforting. He is a bone fide expert and has written extensively on details of the jihadi threat which derives its core beliefs from the strict interpretation of Islamic scripture—sharia. This threat is causing serious trouble for Western Civilization—including within the United States, where an unsuspecting public is growing more vulnerable with each passing day. I was pleased to join him and a number of co-authors in elaborating these facts in Shariah, The Threat, which lays out in considerable detail the specific threat posed by the Muslim Brotherhood.
Hope for a Better Time.
Finally, I want to end on a hopeful note. I mentioned that the Muslim Brotherhood began in Egypt, ultimately got control of Egypt and then lost that control via a military coup and election of Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, as President in 2014. As I reported on August 23, 2013, al-Sisi is a graduate of the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania and wrote his thesis on how Democracy might unfold in the Middle East, which is worth rereading now.
Last New Year’s Day, he addressed the clerics at the thousand-year old Al-Azhar University, considered by many to be the epicenter of scholarly Islam. See Jonah Goldberg’s USA Today article for an overview, with links to translated key excerpts of this important speech, perhaps the most important of which follows. President al-Sisi stated:
“I am referring here to the religious clerics. … It’s inconceivable that the thinking that we hold most sacred should cause the entire umma [Islamic world] to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world. Impossible!
“That thinking — I am not saying ‘religion’ but ‘thinking’ — that corpus of texts and ideas that we have sacralized over the centuries, to the point that departing from them has become almost impossible, is antagonizing the entire world. It’s antagonizing the entire world! … All this that I am telling you, you cannot feel it if you remain trapped within this mindset. You need to step outside of yourselves to be able to observe it and reflect on it from a more enlightened perspective.
“I say and repeat again that we are in need of a religious revolution. You, imams, are responsible before Allah. The entire world, I say it again, the entire world is waiting for your next move … because this umma is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost — and it is being lost by our own hands.”
This “speaking truth to power” is very encouraging. Al-Sisi then on January 6 attended a Coptic Christian Christmas Mass, the first time anything like that has been done by an Egyptian president. He spoke of his love of Christian Egyptians and the need to see “all Egyptians” as part of “one hand.”
These initiatives are examples of what Westerners aware of the jihadi threat have long wanted to see. We should all pay attention to see if President al-Sisi actually follows through on these fine initiatives—and how they fit as extension/modification of the strategy he described in his 2006 thesis at the Army War College, and summarized in my August 23, 2013 High Frontier message.
Perhaps most pertinent was his comment that: “[T]o codify the major themes of the Islamic faith, they should be represented in the constitution or similar document. This does not mean a theocracy will be established, rather it means a democracy will be established built upon Islamic beliefs.”
But sharia law, the basis for “Islamic beliefs,” is in direct conflict with the U.S. Constitution. Al-Sisi’s views may have been modified since his days in Carlisle, so we should await clarification before great celebrations.
Nevertheless, this most welcome development provides hope for the future—and perhaps the potential for someday resolving the tangled web of Middle East politics—not to mention the associated Sunni-Shia disharmony which extends far beyond the Middle East.
As I ended my message last week, hope is not a strategy. So we still have work to do—especially in persuading the “powers that be” to protect our electric power grid—including from manmade and natural EMP!
Near Term High Frontier Plans.
While watching these developments with great interest, we will continue working with South Carolina folks to build a coalition to engage constructively with private citizens and their local and state representatives and other authorities to work with the SC National Guard in understanding and responding to this serious threat. We will expand this effort to neighboring and other states. We expect support from Cong. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) whose district includes my SC farm—who is a member of the Congressional EMP Caucus seeking legislation to counter the EMP threat.
Of great importance is my future efforts with South Carolina’s Adjutant General, Major General Robert E. Livingston, Jr. and the state’s National Guard to understand and deal with the threats to the electric grid. In future plans with him and others in the state, I will be emphasizing efforts to assure a viable role of the nuclear power reactors that produce 60-percent of South Carolina’s electricity.
Our message is getting the attention of a number of folks around the nation, who share our concerns about the lack of action on many fronts in Washington and the need for local folks to get engaged. Hopefully, the increasing opportunities for me to share High Frontier’s message will bear fruit that manifests itself in action—both in Washington and locally. Both are needed for America to “be all it can be” to borrow a phrase from the U.S. Army.
We will be working with members of the EMP Coalition and others who are seeking to take our message across the country—especially with Bob Newman, a former Adjutant General of Virginia to help us link our SC plans more broadly and especially into the National Capital region.
What can you do?
Join us in praying for our nation, and for a rebirth of the freedom sought, achieved and passed to us by those who came before us.
Help us to spread our message to the grass roots and to encourage all “powers that be” to provide for the common defense as they are sworn to do.
Begin by passing this message to your friends and suggest they visit our webpage www.highfrontier.org, for more information. Also, please encourage your sphere of influence to sign up for our weekly e-newsletter.
Encourage them to review our past email messages, posted on www.highfrontier.org, to learn about many details related to the existential manmade and natural EMP threats and how we can protect America against them. I hope you will help us with our urgently needed efforts, which I will be discussing in future messages.
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