Obama’s strategy for the
Middle East has backfired
By Marco Rubio
Rubio, a Republican from Florida, is a member of the U.S. Senate.
The fall of the Iraqi city of Ramadi
to the Islamic State and recent gains by the group in Syria are the latest signs
that President Obama’s strategy to defeat this brutal terrorist group is
failing. But the problem is far bigger than that. The president’s entire
approach to the Middle East has backfired.
The Middle East is more
dangerous and unstable than when Obama came into office — a time when Iraq and
Syria were more stable, the Iranian nuclear program was considerably less
advanced and the Islamic State did not yet exist.
Much of this instability is a
result of Obama’s disengagement from the region, best symbolized by the
withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011. The vacuum created by
America’s pullback has been filled by bad actors, including terrorist
extremists, both Sunni and Shiite, who have flourished in the absence of U.S.
On one side are the radical
Sunni extremists of al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and affiliated groups. The
Islamic State has capitalized on the political grievances many Iraqi Sunnis have
with their sectarian Shiite leaders, as well as the divisions between Syrian
Sunnis and the brutal Alawite-dominated Assad regime, which is supported by
Iran. The Islamic State’s black banner is now spreading as far afield as Libya
On the other side is Iran, a
country run by a militant Shiite clerical regime that is the world’s leading
sponsor of terrorism and has as its primary goal regional domination and the
export of the Iranian revolution. As the Obama administration has focused on
negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran, Tehran has exploited U.S. weakness and
expanded its reach into Syria, Iraq and Yemen, among other countries.
To begin to deal with the
challenges we face, we need a reassertion of U.S. leadership in the region and
specifically in the fight against the Islamic State. This should include the
● Broaden the
coalition. We should build and lead a coalition of our regional partners
that will work to defeat the Islamic State. In addition to the Kurds and Sunni
tribes, this should include the Persian Gulf countries and those such as Egypt,
Jordan and Turkey, many of which realize that this fight is not just a military
one but also an ideological battle for the heart and soul of Islam. The current
coalition is suffering because our allies and friends doubt our commitment to
● Increase U.S.
involvement in the fight. As part of this multinational effort, the
president should increase the number of U.S. forces in Iraq and remove
restrictions on their ability to embed with the Iraqi units they are training
and advising. Having the proper number of U.S. forces in Iraq is crucial for
both weaning the Iraqi government off its reliance on Iran for military
assistance and moving toward a unified and inclusive Iraq.
We also need to increase the
frequency and pace of airstrikes and Special Operations raids against the
Islamic State — and ensure that we are assisting a wide range of local actors,
especially Sunni tribes — not just the central government in Baghdad, which
has been overly reliant on Shiite
militias controlled by Iran. We need to make clear to Iran that any
attacks by its proxies in Iraq against U.S. personnel will result in a response
from the United States.
● Not cut a bad deal
with Iran. Among the reasons that I have been so vocally opposed to the
outline of the Iranian
deal announced by Obama is that, in addition to leaving Iran as a
nuclear threshold state, we will also be providing the regime with billions of
dollars of sanctions relief to fuel its export of terrorism and further its
regional expansionism, including its efforts to undermine Iraq’s stability.
● Prevent the Islamic
State’s expansion beyond Iraq and Syria. We need to act more quickly to
prevent the emergence of other failed and failing states that are fertile
territory for the Islamic State and other terrorist groups. Addressing
instability before countries devolve into anarchy is essential. Libya is a prime
Because of the Obama
administration’s “lead from behind” approach to the effort to topple
Moammar Gaddafi, Libya is a
growing haven for the Islamic State, where the group is able to
freely control large swaths of territory for training and recruitment for the
fight in Iraq and Syria, just as al-Qaeda once used Afghanistan for its
operations against the United States.
Despite the enormousness of
the challenge, we can still defeat the enemies that we face in a Middle East
that remains crucial to U.S. national interests and security. Doing so will
require urgent action and leadership from President Obama before our options get