“Aggressive Containment of ISIS and Iranian Imperialism in the Middle East, a plausible plan with respect to the current administration.” –By: Terence Rosenthal

“Aggressive containment” is a strategy the present U.S. administration is capable of pursuing without diverting from its current ideology with respect to its foreign policy in the Middle East. It consists of two U.S. brokered partnerships in the Middle East with respect to ISIS, the Syrian civil war, and expanding Iranian regional hegemony. The first partnership would respond to developments south of Syria and Iraq. It would be between Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. With the help of the U.S., this partnership would also be in charge of dealing with ISIS in the Sinai, and Houthis and Al Qaeda in Yemen. The second U.S. assisted partnership would be between the Turks and Kurdish forces to the north of Syria and Iraq. This partnership would focus on fortifying the Turkish border, and Turkish waterways on the Mediterranean. Both coalitions would fortify borders, utilize checkpoints to gather intelligence, and construct and fortify refugee camps with assistance and direction from the U.S.

Devising a strategy with regard to ISIS, Iran and their affiliates is quite challenging as any course of action the U.S. takes may be perceived as beneficial for bad actors in the region. However, inaction will yield worse consequences. “Aggressive Containment” offers many scenarios in which the U.S. can act as “manager in chief” with respect to the reinforcement of partnerships designed to confront challenges associated with ISIS, the Syrian civil war, and Iranian hegemony.


With respect to confronting ISIS, the Syrian civil war, and Iranian hegemony in the Middle East, what is realistic under current U.S. leadership must be considered

It is important to consider the current U.S. leadership when reviewing possible countermeasures with respect to the spread of both ISIS and regional Iranian Shia imperialism. So far, it is unclear what the U.S. seeks as an ideal goal with respect to these two challenges. Even after the Paris terror attacks, President Obama remains ambivalent with respect to developments in the Middle East. “President Obama has made clear that the attacks in Paris won’t change his strategy toward Syria—which means that meetings between the two presidents are likely to lead to announcements of incremental progress but nothing on par with the sort of strategic reorientation many might have expected after a deadly attack on the U.S.’s close European ally” (De Galbert, 2015).


Coalitions between the U.S. and regional forces must place the security of key maritime trade routes first.

As the Syrian civil war and the ISIS conflict progress, ISIS affiliates are claiming responsibility for the Paris attacks. ISIS affiliated groups are springing up throughout the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa. Boko Haram, Ansar al-Sharia are probably the most well-known among these organizations. However, the Islamic State presence in Gaza and Sinai, Ahara al-Sunna, and Al-Qaeda in Yemen are possibly the most troubling incarnations of ISIS because of their proximity to major waterways in addition to other religious conflicts. ISIS has demonstrated that they have no problem plundering resources to generate revenue and attract new converts. If ISIS gains control of key waterways and trade routes, they will hold the maritime trade through the Middle East hostage.


Iranian hegemony in the Middle East threatens the international community as much as ISIS

During the Syrian civil war and the ISIS conflicts, Iranian influence has taken lower profile in the news. The international community has all but given Iran the green light to nuclear development. Perhaps the global diplomatic community has failed to take into account that Iran’s influence backs the Assad regime, Hezbollah, the Houthis in Yemen, Hamas, and IRGC, a semi-autonomous terrorist group inside of its own government.  Iranian influenced Shiite leadership is equal or surpasses Sunni leadership in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen. Iran and this group of countries is often called the Shia crescent. If the Shia crescent becomes more dominant, regional maritime trade routes may be closed to pro-western countries in Europe and Asia. These routes- the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Aden, are perhaps the most important trade routes in the world.


Conflicts in the Middle East have created global threats and challenges

Defensive mobilization of border forces is required now as according to the United Nations, over 4 million Syrian refugees have moved to other countries in the region, with more than 7.5 million who have left their homes within Syria due to conflict. The true danger revealed by these numbers is how great the possibility for chaos there is in the Middle East and Europe due to the amount of people who are displaced and cannot be identified.


The U.S,’ global role is to defend world trade. Trade through the Middle East is too important for U.S. to ignore.

Ambivalence with respect to U.S. military intervention in the Middle East is quite understandable. Although the wars in Iraq ended with some positive outcomes, it is questionable as to whether they worth the sacrifice that the U.S. put into them. Before directing more resources into the Syrian civil war, ISIS conflict, and response to Iranian expansion, the U.S. must define its purpose as a global leader. While the U.S. cannot afford to be the global police, it must be the prime guardian of free trade throughout the world. As the largest global economy, and the foremost proponent of democracy, the U.S. bears the most responsibility and has the most to gain from guarding world trade. In addition, assurance and safety with respect to free trade assures greater freedom and democracy internationally. For this reason, the U.S. cannot afford to turn its back on the Middle East by letting the most important global resources and trade routes fall into the hands of tyranny and chaos.


Some U.S. analysts favor striking ISIS in Syria, however, they offer very few alternatives in the event of an anti-U.S. counter attack on the part of Russia and Iran.

How should the U.S. further intervene in response to developments in Syria and Iraq? According to Christopher Harmer at Institute for the Study if War, “The U.S. can and should act decisively in Syria in order to protect its national security interests and those of its allies.” “Continued U.S. inaction in the face of these strategic challenges will only exacerbate the security situation and empower America’s enemies and strategic competitors.” Chris Harmer at ISW recommends segmented no-fly zones throughout Iraq and Syria that do not interfere with Russian intervention in the region. “Strategically, establishing a No-Fly Zone could deprive the Assad regime of its ability to continue its kill and depopulate strategy” (Harmer, 2015). This may help contain ISIS, however, it does not address where refugees will be taken, or how movements of people from the region will be limited.


Other American analysts say that the U.S. should stay out of the Syria conflicts, and let Iran and Russia bear the burden of confronting ISIS and sorting out the complex allegiances and logistics of the Syrian civil war.  

In May, Patrick Buchanan states, “While few would mourn the passing of the Assad dynasty, there is a problem: If Assad falls, a slaughter of Christians will follow and the battle for control of Damascus will be between the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda, the Nusra Front, and the crazed terrorists of the Islamic State. Victory for either would be a disaster for America” (2015). In addition, if the U.S. remains neutral with respect to future leadership in Syria, perhaps a Sunni versus Shia power struggle will help the western interests. Buchanan further states, “…while the Houthis bear no love for us, they have been fighting al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Thus, the Saudi bombing has given AQAP, the most dangerous terrorist foe we face, freedom to create sanctuaries and liberate hundreds of fellow terrorists from prison” (2015). This “let the chips fall where they may” approach may create a scenario in which the U.S. and pro-Western powers may have to negotiate with terrorist groups regarding resources and trade routes in the future.


“Aggressive Containment” considers the significance of the Middle East with respect to future trade and global military and diplomatic alliances

The main focus of aggressive containment is to secure the borders of Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. Once the borders of these countries are fully secured, starving ISIS of resources as well as limiting Iranian hegemony is more likely. Why emphasize a coalition between Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt? All gain as allies with respect to countering ISIS, the Assad regime, and Iranian regional influence. Together, they assure protection of waterways and trade to the west. In addition, as a coalition, they are a much stronger force against ISIS in the Sinai, and the Houthis in Yemen. Interestingly, these threats are both Sunni and Shia, and stand to block the world’s most important trade routes.

The Russians and Iranians are both present in Syria, and Iran has a presence in Yemen. ISIS has presence in the Syria, Sinai, and Yemen. The Eastern Mediterranean, the Suez Canal, Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, and the Persian Gulf are all in danger of becoming dominated by anti-western forces. The coalition of Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, to link with U.S. and other western navies, assuring the western dominance in the Mediterranean, the Suez, and Red Sea, assuring safe trade from Europe to Asia, as well as east-west trade of Saudi and Gulf State oil. Coalition victories in the Sinai and Yemen will show ISIS, Iran, and other radical Islamist groups that they will not succeed in threatening the west and free trade. In addition, Iran will face the reality that a pro-western coalition in the Middle East will hedge Iranian influence in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq.

The U.S. should broker a partnership between Turkey and Kurdistan in countering ISIS from the north. Kurdistan has been the only reliable force in countering ISIS in northern Syria and Iraq. If the Turks and the Kurds form a partnership, Turkey will be able to use Kurdistan as a buffer zone in which to gather key intelligence with respect to ISIS. Being trusted by Turkey and the international community to take on ISIS and while rallying all Kurdish provinces, there is no doubt that the Kurds will gain greater autonomy.

In addition to border fortification in the Middle East, the U.S. should lead in the construction of fortified refugee camps and identification checkpoints in Kurdistan, Israel, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia and Turkey. This addresses the hemorrhage of refugees migrating to Europe from the Syrian and ISIS conflicts. U.S. boots will be required on the ground, but not in the heart of the Syrian civil war or ISIS conflicts.


Although Iran and ISIS are oppose each other, they both desire hegemony in the Middle East. Aggressive containment takes productive action while allowing ISIS and Iran to drain resources fighting over territory

“In many ways Iran and Islamic State are mirror images of each other. Take a historical example from a half millennium ago. Asked what Francis I of France sought in his war with Charles V of the Habsburg Empire, the French king replied: ‘None, we are in complete agreement. We both want control over Italy’” (Weinthal, 2015). Iran is an Islamist government with a semi-autonomous militant Islamist army embedded among its allies globally. With respect to pursuits designed to weaken the west, unlike ISIS, the IRGC prefers to operate in the shadows, training groups like Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Taliban. It also partners with organized crime and illegal drug cartels throughout the world. Interestingly, much of the efforts of the IRGC are generated in South America.  Benjamin Weinthal, a writer for the Jerusalem Post states, “In those battles, Tehran will likely do just enough to make sure the Sunnis don’t conquer the Shi’a portions of Iraq and Assad’s enclave in Syria, but no more. Meanwhile, in ISIS’ wake, Tehran will strengthen its own radical Shi’a militias. The result could be a permanent destabilization of the Arab heartland” (2015).


U.S. will lose the trust of its allies if it chooses to continue “leading from behind.” France turning to Russia in the face of U.S. indecision.

U.S. allies are disheartened that although Obama offered Hollande sympathy, he was going to maintain the current U.S. foreign policy with respect to Syria and Iraq. Western Europe is searching for leadership with respect to events in Syria and the subsequent refugee crisis. In spite of Russia’s self- motivated interests in Syria, the Europeans may look to the Russians for that leadership. “Russia is attempting to align itself with France in the wake of ISIS’s terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13. Russia took steps to reassert its freedom of action in Syria as France expanded its anti-ISIS air campaign in response to the Paris attacks” (Spaulding, 2015). “Russia may view France’s accelerating air campaign in Syria as an opportunity both to draw a major U.S. ally into its proposed alternative counterterrorism coalition and to degrade NATO” (Spaulding, 2015).


About Isis in the Sinai, and Houthis and Al Qaeda in Yemen

Victory over ISIS in the Sinai offers the U.S. and a coalition between Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt would help to reverse the public relations war ISIS is waging in the media and online. ISIS in the Sinai appeared after it took credit for the downing of a Russian passenger jet on October 31st. “On several occasions since then, both the Sinai “province” and other parts of the Islamic State’s international network have issued statements and videos saying the “caliphate’s” soldiers were responsible” (Jocelyn, 2015). In addition, “the group claimed to have destroyed more than 25 Egyptian military and security vehicles, killed more than 100 members of Egypt’s security forces and taken various spoils between October 14 and November 13” (Jocelyn, 2015). Suppression of the Houthis and Al Qaeda in Yemen will also better pro-western public relations in terms of diminishing the power of both Sunni and Shia radicalism in the Arabian Peninsula. If the coalition of Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan were cemented by the U.S., and they were to blight Sunni and Shia radical groups, key trade routes connecting the Mediterranean with the Indian Ocean would be assured.


Enlisting the Kurds in the north at the Turkish and Syrian borders

North of ISIS and the Syrian civil war, in Iraq and Syria lie the Kurds. Kurdish forces have shown immense courage with little help from outside forces since conflict arose in Iraq and Syria. The Kurds are more reliable to the west than any other group that the U.S. and western forces are reaching out to. “The U.S. also says it’s going to train ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels, a process that could take a year to generate some 5,000 fighters. Yet the U.S. has given no indication so far that it’s prepared to work with the Kurdish militias in Syria that are already clashing with the Islamic State” (Myre, 2015). While the Turks and the Kurds are not friendly, if the U.S. can oversee a partnership among these territories, border checkpoints and refugee camps can be set up in the mountains north of ISIS. The geography of the Kurdish territories offers somewhat of a safe haven because of its remote, mountainous terrain. The Kurdish territories also offer an optimal listening post to monitor movements of the Iranians in the East. The Kurds have also been the most effective in rolling back advances from ISIS. In contrast, moderate rebels in Syria are having to fight pro-Assad forces as well as ISIS. These forces have a variety of motives, some of which are not in concert with the West. If confronted by ISIS or Assad, many among the moderate rebels may turn against the U.S.


Aggressive containment is a viable strategy with respect to current U.S. leadership.

Aggressive containment is a viable strategy for the United States with respect to developments in the Middle East because it allows the U.S. to continue its utilization of smart weaponry offensives while guarding western interests, and not interfering with the Russians or other European forces. Aggressive containment responds to the public relations campaign of Sunni and Shia radical groups by halting their advances in Yemen and the Sinai, which are based near key maritime trade routes. In addition, aggressive containment answers humanitarian crises which are arising due to the Syrian civil war, and the advance of ISIS.