Key Points

Acknowledging that a longtime policy may have passed its sell-by date is rarely easy. Policy inertia is a powerful force, and large bureaucracies are almost always resistant to major changes in direction—especially when it comes to things like Iraq’s post-2003 political order that the United States did so much to create. But major events are afoot now in Iraq that cry out for serious reevaluation. Not only are important U.S. interests are at stake, but, as we’ve seen repeatedly in recent weeks, the lives of U.S. troops and diplomats are increasingly at risk as well. Recognizing the need for a significant shift in approach is the critical first step toward building a more sustainable and effective long-term Iraq policy, even if comes at the expense of acknowledging that Washington’s approach since 2003 has largely been a failure.

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Trump’s elimination of Soleimani symbolizes the end of the Obama strategy of realigning the U.S. with the Islamic Republic. But to bury that strategy, Trump still needs to end the nuclear deal fully. The arms embargo on Iran is set to be lifted at the end of this year. The expiration of other sunset clauses will be prevented only when the U.S. activates the so-called snapback mechanism at the United Nations Security Council, which would restore the international restrictions and sanctions on Iran that the nuclear deal shredded.

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Now is not the time for a victory lap. Nor is it time for threats of another troop withdrawal. Now is the time for new thinking about an old problem. Trump started the process with a surprisingly bold airstrike. He further defended American interests by firmly asserting America’s red line in the face of an Iranian response. But this is far from over. Under new leadership, the Quds Force will be getting back to business, sowing mayhem across the Middle East.

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Washington is certainly capable, if Republican and Democrats can agree on the baleful nature of the Islamic Republic, to make the clerical regime bleed in Syria in the way it made the United States bleed in Iraq.  Simple justice, let alone strategic common sense, ought to incline Washington to train and aid Syrians willing to take the fight to the Revolutionary Guards, allied foreign Shiite militias, and Alawite forces.  It’s not too late to do this.  If there is American will, there’s always a way.  Barring such action, however, U.S. foreign policy in Syria will, at best, devolve into a holding action against an Iranian-Alawite-Russian advance at Dayr az-Zor, the critical juncture of Iraqi and Syrian highways, and a waiting game to see whether American sanctions and rioting Shiites throughout the region can crack the Islamic Republic and its imperialism.

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The greatest benefit Ankara and Doha would reap by changing their malign policies would be burnishing their global image as permissive jurisdictions for illicit and terrorism finance. This would ameliorate their investment climate and help remedy their public diplomacy deficit. The United States should provide a roadmap for how to arrive there.

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Events

EVENT: Shatter the Nations: ISIS and the War for the Caliphate

October 21, 2019 | 12:00

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