David Frum, last spotted ending evil in the form of entirely credible war photographers, surfaced again this week to pontificate on foreign policy. Turns out he thinks we’re getting too involved in the fight against the Islamic State—but not for the reasons you might think:
My own view is that we have made too much of a priority out of the Islamic State. They are a nasty bunch of characters, probably as nasty as there are anywhere on the planet. But they are not America’s and the West’s most important strategic threat in the region. That is Iran. And we, because of our focus on the Islamic State, have been backing into, and the Obama administration has been leading us into, a de facto partnership with Iran and protecting the greater strategic threat at the expense of the lesser strategic threat.
The notion that Iran is a greater threat than the Islamic State and therefore demands a tougher response is nonsense. Iran is considered an urgent danger by Israel and has caused regional trouble in the past by funding terrorism. But it’s also a stable nation state with a functional government and a relatively educated population.
To the extent that America has interests in the Middle East, they’re threatened by instability, not the Ayatollah Khamenei. Saudi Arabia and Yemen, for example, have very poor populations that are vulnerable to Islamic radicalization. Yemen has collapsed into chaos which could threaten Saudi Arabia as well, and ISIS is already making serious inroads.
Are we so terrified of the mullahs in Tehran that we can’t see the horror that a jihadist-swarmed Arabian Peninsula would pose? The region was an Islamist factory before ISIS started knocking at its door. And while fighting the Sunni extremists of ISIS would cede some power to Shia Iran, weakening or even collapsing the Middle East’s Sunni citadels—Saudi Arabia, Qatar—would arguably lease even more life to the Islamic Revolution.
That’s why it’s so encouraging that Sunni states, most notably Jordan, are upping the ante against ISIS. The best way to fight Islamic jihad in the Middle East is for the region’s established players, Sunni and Shia, to shout in one unified voice: “Enough!” And no more relying on America to do their jobs for them.
Of course that might empower Iran, but so what? It was Sunni extremists, not Tehran, that ran planes into the Twin Towers, and it was Sunni extremists, not Tehran, that are attempting to extirpate minority populations in Iraq. By suggesting everyone focus more attention on Iran, is Frum suggesting everyone focus less attention on the plights of the Kurds and Yezidis? Because we realists are sometimes accused of lacking compassion, but that’s just cold.