An exceptional opportunity has opened to weaken Iran’s blood-stained regime because of the outrage of many Iranians at the downing of a Ukrainian passenger aircraft killing all 176 people aboard.
To take advantage of the opportunity, President Donald Trump should start pulling American troops out of Iraq and Syria as soon as possible. That could help him win the November elections and hasten the fall of Iran’s theocratic rulers.
This is a good time to make a start to achieving both. If the remaining 6,000 US troops leave Iraq and Syria, there will still be over 50,000 American troops stationed just a stone’s throw away in the Gulf kingdoms.
Thus, the withdrawal would involve measured risks. It would also save Trump from foreign opprobrium for keeping troops forcibly in Iraq against the parliament’s wishes.
The chief obstacles to withdrawal are the hawks in Washington and their fear of the Islamic State’s resurgence. They should take a half-step back to really see the recent changes in the Middle East instead of looking only through the lens of sectarianism between Shia Islam and Sunni Islam.
The new opportunity has appeared because ordinary people, both Shia and Sunni, have had it with outsiders using their territories to fight wider wars that are destroying their lives, homes and nations.
In Iran, ordinary people are losing trust in the word of their leaders who profess to religious integrity but behave like unprincipled autocrats while allowing their subjects to sink in poverty. They are using fear of Trump’s military and economic sanctions to foist austerity and compliance upon their subjects.
What American hawks must realize is that the chief current recruiter for IS and its acolytes is the presence of US troops in Iraq and Syria.
They should also notice that the current Mideast wars are not about Sunni and Shia Islam. They are about existential threats to the regimes both in Shia Iran and Sunni Gulf kingdoms from extremist fanatics grouped as Al Qaeda, IS and other jihadists.
These extremists are Arab Sunnis. Tehran will not let them win because they pose existential threats to Iran as the homeland of Shia Islam and Persian ethnicity.
Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and United Arab Emirates will also not let them win because they are existential threats to the ruling royal families.
They no longer have support anywhere in the Gulf because they demonstrated sheer bigoted cruelty, xenophobia and misogyny during their theocratic rule of the IS Caliphate in Iraq and Syria and the Taliban Emirate in Afghanistan.
With American soldiers gone from their midst in Iraq and Syria, all those who fear IS are likely to unite against it. Iraq’s Sunni, Kurd and Shia forces will have no alternative to working together to stamp out IS.
They will no longer be able to use American troops as shields and will be forced to make the necessary compromises in short order to save themselves from the brutal IS boot on all their necks.
The US and NATO have already laid the groundwork for their success by grievously weakening IS and cutting off its money pipelines.
The tatters of IS remaining in Syria will be under too much pounding from government forces to repeat their triumphs of 2014. When American troops depart Syria, the government will have only IS and Al Qaeda extremists left as enemies. It will not let them rest.
To save itself and the Shia faith, Iran, already weakened and impoverished by Trump, will have to make common cause against IS with Sunni, Kurd and Shia in Iraq.
Reduced fear of war with the US will also encourage ordinary Iranians already deeply distrustful of their authoritarian regime to turn against it more openly.
The risk remains, of course, that Khamenei might provoke war as dictators often do to tighten their grip on citizens. If Trump doubles down on threats of war and economic asphyxiation, Iranians may be forced to come together behind Khamenei because of love of country.
That would greatly prolong their subjugation under the yoke of the theocrats who have always put their regime’s survival above providing better lives for the people.
American hawks egged on by Saudi Arabia and Israel claim that the back of Shia expansionism must be broken by any means including war. They are willing to sacrifice American lives and treasure to protect Sunni domination of all the Middle East.
That is jingoist short-sight. Americans do not need to die to save those kingdoms from their home-grown jihadist enemies born and bred from Saudi Arabia’s particular brands of Salafi and Wahhabi Islam.
The existential threats to the Shia regime in Tehran and Sunni kingdoms of the Gulf come from the Sunni fanatics in their region. For its survival as a Shia nation, Iran will defeat them. As will the royal families of the Gulf for their own survival.
In the midst of this mayhem without the American scapegoat, Tehran’s regime may not survive its own people’s wrath. Especially, if Trump nudges those people through sensible diplomacy and information campaigns instead of warmongering and threats that drive them back into the regime’s arms.
To get rid of Tehran’s regime, the need is to dial down fear. Iran’s people need to know that Trump will not allow the regime to save itself by provoking him into a limited war because he cares for their lives and livelihoods.
Any resurgence of the Islamic State will not be as lethal for the homelands of the United States and European countries. In the West, recent terrorist attacks have come from home grown IS sympathizers who are outraged by the devastation caused in Muslim lands by the US and its allies.
That motivation will be lessened making terror threats in the West more manageable and police action against them more effective.