Middle East Muddle
The Strangest Bedfellows of All

As the U.S. ups “advisor” deployments to Iraq, some of them are sharing bases with Iranian-backed Shi’a militia. Eli Lake & Josh Rogin at Bloomberg report:

Two senior administration officials confirmed to us that U.S. soldiers and Shiite militia groups are both using the Taqqadum military base in Anbar, the same Iraqi base where President Obama is sending an additional 450 U.S. military personnel to help train the local forces fighting against the Islamic State. Some of the Iran-backed Shiite militias at the base have killed American soldiers in the past.

This is, to say the least, strange. And it won’t just look strange to Americans; alarm bells will be ringing all across the Sunni world. Angry Sunni allies are already accusing the United States of acting as ‘the Shi’a air force’ for the duration of the fight against ISIS; the news that we are now sharing bases with them is going to confirm a worst-case scenario in many Sunni minds, and the word on the street will be that the infidel Americans are in bed with the heretics of Tehran.

This perception is not going to stabilize the Middle East. It’s going to make it easier for ISIS and Al-Qaeda linked groups to recruit. It’s going to increase the flow of money and arms from the Gulf to radical jihadis in Syria and beyond. And it’s going to add new urgency to the drive by Israel and Saudi Arabia to work together against American policy in the region. We can send as many officials as we want to the Gulf to tell the Saudis, Kuwaitis and Emiratis how much we love them; it won’t do much good.

Lake and Rogin go on to point out that some Obama Administration officials have privately expressed worries that the Shi’a might, gasp, spy on U.S. troops at the facility, and that the troops are “at risk”. As for the spying, two can play at that game, and let’s hope the Americans on the base are keeping their eyes and ears open. As for the risk question, who knows? Let’s just hope that the White House knows what it is doing.

For better or for worse, the administration is doubling down on its bet that making friends with the Shi’a is the best way to defend American interests at the least risk and cost. And maybe it thinks that displays of good will and support will win some points with the Supreme Leader as the nuclear talks near yet another ‘deadline’. We root for the home team at The American Interest, so we hope this all somehow turns out for the best; we can’t help but wonder, though, what will come next. An American honor guard for the Supreme Leader as he leads the chants at the next big “Death to America” rally?

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