Iran, Russia and the United States: The New Middle East

Aug 12th, 2017 | By | Category: Featured Issues, Politics & Current Events

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The civil war in Syria is entering a new phase, one fraught with significant implications for the Middle East, for Israel and for the United States.  In the words of columnist Charles Krauthammer, “The great Muslim civil war, centered in Syria, is approaching its post-Islamic State phase.  It’s the end of the beginning.  The parties are maneuvering to shape what comes next.”  ISIS is disappearing as an independent, organized state within the Middle East.  Its threat as a terrorist organization remains viable, but the caliphate declared by Baghdadi is dead!  The current fighting is about who inherits the sections of Syria and Iraq that ISIS controlled.  What is now occurring within the Middle East is a Shiite-Sunni war for regional hegemony.

  • “Iran (which is non-Arab) leads the Shiite side, attended by its Arab auxiliaries—Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Shiite militias in Iraq and the highly penetrated government of Iraq, and Assad’s Alawite regime.” This is the now famous Shiite Crescent that stretches from Iran through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon to the Mediterranean.  As Iran consolidates control of this Crescent, it gives the Persians (aka Iranians) a Mediterranean access that it has not had in 2,300 years!  The patronage and protection for this Shiite Crescent is Russia, which supplies the Crescent with cash, weapons and, since 2015, air cover from its new bases in Syria—a dream of Russian tsars Peter the Great and Catherine the Great now realized!!!
  • On the other side of this Muslim civil war are the Sunnis led by Saudi Arabia, the Persian Gulf States, Egypt and Jordan. The patron and (historic) protector of this alliance is the United States.  President Obama had disengaged from playing an active role in this alliance, but under President Trump, the US has re-engaged.

What is the Shiite Crescent doing in the Middle East?  As ISIS is losing its hold in Syria and Iraq, Iranian-controlled militias are taking control of critical roads and other strategic assets in western Iraq and eastern Syria with the goal of moving men and guns to proxy forces in Syria and Lebanon—a significant existential threat to Israel.  In the battle for control of Iraq, Iran has won and the US has lost.  As New York Times reporter, Tim Arango, demonstrates, “Iran never lost sight of its mission:  to dominate its neighbor so thoroughly that Iraq could never again endanger it militarily and to use the country to effectively control a corridor from Tehran to the Mediterranean.”  Krauthammer:  The Iranian-Russian goal is “a unified Syria under Assad, the ever more pliant client of Iran and Russia; Hezbollah, tip of the Iranian spear, dominant in Lebanon; Iran, the regional arbiter; and Russia, with its Syrian bases, the outside hegemon.”

In light of this devastating development in the Middle East of this emerging Shiite Crescent, what should the policy of the US be?  President Trump seems to have three rather vague aims when it comes to this volatile region:  destroy ISIS, roll back Iran’s growing power and reduce America’s involvement in the Middle East.  As The Economist correctly observes, “These are inconsistent, because sustained diplomatic and military engagement will be needed both to prevent a new ISIS rising from the ashes of the old and also to contain Iran, which is using its proxies and its own forces dotted around the region to extend its influence.”  John Bolton, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, makes a convincing argument that the US must articulate a rather clear objective of “pushing back these Iranian and Russian gains” which are articulated above.  Why?  [1] The Sunni governments of Saudi Arabia, for example, will never accept the hegemony of Iran in the Middle East.  It has declared its willingness to challenge Iran, as it is now doing in Yemen, and as it has demonstrated in its sanctions against Qatar for its pro-Iranian demeanor.  Saudi Arabia has also declared its willingness to pursue nuclear weapons in light of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, which Obama’s agreement did not end but only postponed.  Chaos and disorder in the Middle East will result.  [2] Russia’s interference in this region critically threatens the interests of the US, Israel and other Sunni governments in the region.  “Both Iran and the Assad regime remain terror-sponsoring states, only now they are committing their violence under Russia’s protective umbrella.  There is no reason for the US to pursue a strategy that enhances Russia’s influence or that of its surrogates.”  This reality is of particular concern in light of President Trump’s recent cut-off of all aid to America’s proxies in the Syrian civil war.  As one administration official argued, “Putin won in Syria.”  On a larger scale in both the Middle East and in Eastern Europe, columnist Michael Gerson argues, Russia “has employed a sophisticated mix of conventional operations and cyber-operations to annex territory and destabilize governments.  It has systematically encouraged far-right, nationalist leaders and supported pro-Russian, anti-democratic parties across Europe.  It is trying to delegitimize democratic processes on the theory that turbulence in the West is good for a rising East.  This is a strategy that allows Russia to punch above its strategic weight, especially since Trump has chosen to abdicate the United States’ natural role in opposition.”

What does all of this mean?  How can we sort through the complexities of the Middle East and beyond?  Due to the loss of US influence in the Middle East under President Obama and due to the utter confusion and chaos of the Trump administration, the US is no longer feared; indeed, it is increasingly becoming irrelevant.  This can be turned around if President Trump begins to end his administration’s chaos and begins to articulate a coherent foreign policy.  But it will take concerted, unified efforts for America to reassert its historic leadership in the Middle East.  This new reality in the Middle East has caused me to think biblically about this region.  The prophetic Scriptures in Daniel chapters 9 and 11-12 and in Revelation 12-14 speak of powers to the north and to the immediate east of Israel.  [“Gog and Magog” may refer to these geographic areas as well.]  A resurgent Russia under Putin and a resurgent Persia under Iran fit this description perfectly.  Furthermore, as one studies prophetic Scripture, one struggles to find any reliable section that even remotely refers to the Western Hemisphere, specifically to North America.  Is it possible that America’s withdrawal from the world under Donald Trump could be the reason?  The world order put together by the United States after World War II is coming apart.  Under Trump, the US is clearly withdrawing from the economic and political institutions of that order.  Who is filling that vacuum created by US withdrawal?  In the East it is clearly China.  In the Middle East it is clearly Russia and Iran.  We live in very dangerous times such that many are now beginning to speak of a “post-American world.”  Since 1945, the US has been the arbiter of a “rules-based” world order.  It has chosen to no longer fulfill that role.  There is no greater illustration of that than in the Middle East.

See Charles Krauthammer in the Washington Post (22 June 2017); The Economist (8 July 2017), pp. 14, 41-42; John Bolton in the Wall Street Journal (29 June 2017); Michael Gerson in the Washington Post 920 June 2017); Tim Arango, “Iran Dominates in Iraq After US Opened Door,” New York Times (16 July 2017); Fareed Zakaria in the Washington Post (27 July 2017). PRINT PDF

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5 Comments to “Iran, Russia and the United States: The New Middle East”

  1. Arlie Rauch says:

    Very insightful. Thanks.

  2. Peter Wiebe says:

    Thank you for a well described analysis of the scene in the Middle East. It paints a picture we should all be concerned about and we should all address our prayers for God’s wisdom and guidance for President Trump and all those who influence so that he has wisdom beyond himself, wisdom beyond his advisers. One sentences says, “Due to the loss of US influence in the Middle East under President Obama and due to the utter confusion and chaos of the Trump administration, the US is no longer feared; indeed, it is increasingly becoming irrelevant.” I do believe this statement reflects the reality of the current state. The statements describes Trump’s administration as utter confusion and chaos. This may be true, and like I said, we need to pray for God’s guidance. However, I also feel that just saying the US lost influence in the Middle East under Obama is not nearly as accurate as the descriptive adjectives in describing the Trump administration. Saying “the loss of US influence in the Middle East under President Obama”, is a little like saying that the administration in North Korea is not the greatest when it comes to either,contributing to world peace or in furthering human rights. Let me site a few examples: Former President Obama made it very clear that North Korea did not possess the means to pursue the goal of nuclear warfare. He was in a position to do something, but, instead reassured everyone that everything was safe as far as North Korea and its nuclear program was concerned. Either Obama was utterly confused and really didn’t know the reality, or, he knew and just wanted to make himself look good, solving a world crisis by continuing to do nothing. Being ignorant is bad enough, but if he knew better, then he deserves a great deal of blame. In the Middle East, Obama was more inclined to do very little except to apologize on behalf of the United States, lay a lot of the problems on Israel. Let’s look at the United States. The United Nations has included, the list of countries where Christian persecution takes place, added the country of the United States. We know Christians in the US do not undergo the same persecutions as Christians in North Korea or in the Middle East countries. However, we do know that tolerance of Christian practices has decrease significantly under the Obama administration. Those who demand the greatest tolerance often become the ones who are least tolerant. Anyone who observing what is happening in America can see this happening. Obama can take a lot of credit for the deterioration of tolerance toward Christian practices while other practices are not only tolerated, but encouraged. So let’s be a little more emphatic about Obama’s influence on the world scene, in the Middle East, and in America. As Trump is displayed as “confusion and chaos” I believe Obama’s influence was calculated and manipulated. We need to lay a little blame at his feet to get a clearer picture of what is happening and why it is happening.

    • Peter Wiebe says:

      What I needed to include is that we need to pray for all world leaders, regardless of political persuasion. Without God’s guidance and wisdom our actions will not bear righteous fruit. Prayerfully, let us pray for God’s guidance, not only for all world leaders, but for each one of us as well so our actions may be pleasing to Him. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

  3. mvlazysusan says:

    A ‘fake news’ article that folks on reddit are making fun of.

    Just because you are terrified of Iran not selling its resources for the US dollar, thereby allowing the middle east to do business world wide without using US dollars, resulting in the 70% of the US dollars outside the US to go back to the US, does NOT mean that Iran engages in acts of terrorism. [See page 10 in this PDF from the FED: http://www.federalreserve.gov/pubs/bulletin/1996/1096lead.pdf ]

    As for israel, they will go back to their ancestral homeland in Europe, or be killed off. (And NO, the Europeans are NOT the biblical Hebrews,[See: Genesis 10:3, – I Chronicles 1:6 and – Jeremiah 51:27 ] , and you can NOT fool God regarding that matter.[See: Revelation 2:9 ], )

  4. Richard Pendell says:

    From the very outset of his first presidential term, Obama made it clear to the world that the U.S. would decrease its involvement in the Middle East , calling Islam a great, peaceful world religion that was fully capable of working out its own, internal problems. In short, we’re folding up and getting out of the game. Well, we can see how well that has worked out. In his two terms, Russia has been selling nuclear missiles/technology to North Korea and Iran, while at the same time aiding Assad to remain in power with the attendant mass refugee exodus, chemical bombs dropped on Syrian cities and decimation of a once-thriving economy. Egypt and Turkey have been destabilized by Islamic dictators and ISIS ethnic cleansings in the Middle East with urban terror common in Europe.
    To add to our weakness, we elected a loose-cannon President who has been a ‘bud’ of V. Putin for years, as well as a major money launderer for his Russian Mafia friends. Not much to work with there, either.
    Finally, we have a vacillating, deeply divided Congress, further divided into deep infighting within their own parties. Again, no light at the end of the tunnel here either.
    The American public has lost faith in all of it, including our schools, media and religious institutions.
    We have made every effort to invite God and his rulebook to leave the premises in government, schools and even churches and are reaping the whirlwind we asked for.
    The fact remains, God will allow our insanity to go only as far as He allows before He will put an end to our rebellion, call out His own and judge the remainder. Come Lord Jesus. Come.