Hillary Mann Leverett on America’s War with the Islamic State, the Iran Nuclear Talks and U.S.-Israeli Relations, and U.S.-Russian Proxy War in Ukraine
Hillary went on MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Parry yesterday to discuss the Obama administration’s ongoing war against the Islamic State (IS), see here and here, the public split between the administration and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu over Iran policy, see here, and the continuing crisis in and over Ukraine, see here. On IS, Hillary takes on the all-too-frequent claim that the movement reflects pathological aspects of Islam and/or Middle Eastern culture, noting:
“There was no Islamic State before [the United States] invaded Iraq, before we destroyed the political order there and upturned the political order in the Middle East. The precursor to the Islamic State was Al-Qa’ida in Iraq, which—in contrast to Vice President Cheney’s claims—did not exist in Iraq and which was created as a response to the U.S. invasion. What we minimize in looking at the Islamic State, because we hate their tactics, is that it has emerged as the strongest, most formidable Sunni organization to protect Sunnis and resist the West and other governments that align with the West.”
Underscoring how much Western discourse on IS’ “brutality” (exemplified in the recent execution of a captured Jordanian pilot) and “fanaticism” misses the movement’s highly strategic approach, Hillary points out:
“The strategy of IS has been very clear, instrumental, and extraordinarily effective. Keep in mind—when IS first took Mosul, back in June, they had about 6,000 foot soldiers; today, they have over 50,000.
Although Jordanians want revenge for now, support for IS within Jordan is still deep. It’s not every Jordanian, but it’s deep. There are over 2,000 Jordanians fighting with IS.
So, IS’ strategy is twofold: One is for IS to show would-be attackers as weak, because their response is going to be meaningless in the in the face of IS hostage-killing. The other is to get attackers to overreach: for the United States to be seen as the cruel, inhumane bomber-murderer, and for Jordan, too, to get it to overreach and for this King to been seen as just an American lackey taking orders from the United States…The concern in Jordan for American foreign policy—what it does in Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine—is a tool IS uses to surge recruitment very effectively.”
Regarding the controversy over Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s scheduled address to a joint session of Congress about Iran on March 3, Hillary explains:
“It shows how close we are to peace with Iran, which would be as revolutionary and beneficial to the United States as when we recognized and normalized relations with China in the 1970s. Because Obama has taken a page from our book, Going to Tehran, has shown the courage, gone forward, and actually gotten us close to a deal, that has gotten key people in Congress to come out.
The Congressional Black Caucus started it. They had the courage to come out first, when nobody else would come out and back the President, they came out and backed the President. And they said, what’s going on here is the President is doing something right, and we need to defend him against a clear, blatant, partisan attack. And the Israelis fed right into it. They thought they could manipulate Congress, and they went right to the Republicans and tried to make it a partisan game. And I think they’re really going to suffer when this goes down.
We’re looking at fundamental change in the Middle East. U.S. policy cannot sustain itself the way it is, and if President Obama can see this through, he will have a legacy of peace and stability that will be quite remarkable…I think we saw a very smart move by President Obama, by the Democratic Party—frankly, that I hadn’t seen for six years—to lead the agenda, to take charge, to actually lead. They came out hitting after the loss in the midterm elections. From January 20, with the State of the Union speech, what they’ve done on immigration, on a range of things—the Iran issue has become part and parcel of that: ‘let the president lead on foreign policy, let him succeed.’ And then the chips will fall where they may in 2016. And I think that the Democrats are now quite confident, as they haven’t been in a few years, that this will come to fruition on a range of issues for Obama and help surge the Democrats to victory in 2016.”
Finally, as continuing tensions between Washington and Moscow prompt mounting calls for the United States and the West to provide “defensive” weapons to Ukraine, Hillary counters that the only real solution to the crisis is for Washington and its partners to “rebuild the relationship [with Russia and President Vladimir Putin]”—to “talk to them,” to “take their interests seriously,” and to “look at a serious way to go about having a neutral Ukraine.”
–Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett