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Middle East



The Issue


The Middle East, the world’s most volatile and conflict-ridden region, continues to generate some of the most dangerous threats to U.S. security. Regrettably, the Obama Administration has failed to formulate effective policies to address the challenges posed by the meltdown of Iraq, Libya, and Syria, the rising threat posed by Islamist extremists throughout the region, the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, and the rising power of Iran.

Iran is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism and is rapidly expanding its ballistic missile force. It soon will pocket roughly $100 billion in sanctions relief under the flawed and risky nuclear deal reached in July 2015. It will be free to use this bonanza to finance a military buildup, provide greater support of Islamist extremist groups throughout the Middle East, and increase its military efforts to shore up the Assad regime in Syria.

Unceasing Hostility. Iran has been hostile to the U.S. since 1979, when a revolution brought to power a cadre of anti-Western Shia Islamist revolutionaries who dubbed the U.S. the “Great Satan.” Iran has tried to export its Islamist revolution violently to Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia by supporting Shia radical Islamists in each of these countries. Tehran helped to create the Hezbollah terrorist group in Lebanon and has supported a wide variety of terrorist and revolutionary groups throughout the Middle East. It became the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism to advance its foreign policy goals and punish its enemies.

In recent years, Iran’s hostile regime has been one of the chief beneficiaries of the political turmoil that convulsed the Middle East during the “Arab Spring,” which distracted the U.S. and other countries from the ongoing standoff over Iran’s nuclear program. The dramatic events diverted international attention from Tehran’s stubborn defiance of four rounds of U.N. Security Council sanctions resolutions on the nuclear issue. The political upheaval in the Arab world also has toppled a government in Egypt, and undermined governments in Jordan, Bahrain, and elsewhere, that firmly opposed Iran. Although Bashar al-Assad’s pro-Iranian regime in Syria also has been weakened, strong support from Iran and Russia appears for the moment to have tilted the balance of power in Syria’s civil war back in favor of Assad.

Iran’s nuclear program will continue, albeit at a slower pace. Although the Obama Administration contends that the nuclear deal blocks all pathways to a nuclear weapon, the agreement actually amounts to little more than a diplomatic speed bump that will delay, but not permanently halt, Iran’s push for a nuclear weapon. Once key restrictions on uranium enrichment expire after 15 years, Iran will be free to develop an industrial-scale enrichment program that will make it easier to sprint across the nuclear threshold.

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Iran’s nuclear infrastructure is left largely intact. Centrifuges used to enrich uranium will be mothballed but not dismantled. The “anytime/anywhere” inspections promised by the Administration were downgraded to “sometimes/some places.” Tehran maintains that inspectors will be barred from inspecting military bases if their presence undermines Iran’s security. Iran will have up to 24 days to move, hide, or destroy materials sought by the inspectors. This is far from a foolproof arrangement, given Iran’s long history of cheating on its agreements.

Iraq’s Implosion. The Obama Administration came into office determined to “end” the war in Iraq. Despite the fact that it had promised to leave behind a residual military force to train and assist Iraqi security forces, it suddenly reversed course and pulled the plug on the U.S. military presence in the fall of 2011 when the Iraqi parliament dragged its feet on granting U.S. soldiers immunity from legal prosecution. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had offered an executive agreement that would have done so, but the Administration decided this was not enough and used the parliament’s foot-dragging as a pretext to precipitously withdraw.

This not only undermined U.S. influence with the Baghdad government, but also allowed al-Qaeda (which later changed its name to ISIS) into Iraq, where it has since operated in a much more permissive environment. The abrupt U.S. military departure greatly weakened Iraqi counterterrorism, intelligence gathering, and special-operations capabilities, thus allowing a decimated al-Qaeda to revive and resurge.

From the beginning, the White House has misunderstood and underestimated the threat posed by al-Qaeda and its ISIS offshoot in Iraq and Syria. President Obama allowed short-term political considerations to trump long-term national security interests when he abruptly ended the U.S. troop presence in Iraq in December 2011. When al-Qaeda in Iraq made a comeback, the Administration long remained in denial. Even after it expanded the territory it controlled in western Iraq in early 2014, President Obama downplayed the threat, famously calling ISIS a “J.V. team.”

After this complacent disdain was exposed as wishful thinking, the White House reacted slowly and reluctantly with a series of half-measures. It initially committed a few hundred advisers, and since ramped up to 3,500 personnel, to advise and support Iraqi security forces and retrain the shattered Iraqi army.

The Administration still has not matched ends and means effectively in the struggle against ISIS. It has barred combat operations by American ground troops, dragged its feet in deploying military advisers, restricted them from being deployed with front-line Iraqi forces, and put tight restrictions on the use of airstrikes to avoid civilian casualties. But the net effect of these policies is to enable ISIS to inflict many more civilian casualties and attract many more fanatic followers.

The White House is micromanaging the conflict and doing a bad job of it. This ad hoc incremental approach is no way to win a war. It gives the enemy time to adjust. It did not work in Vietnam, and it is not working in Iraq. The U.S. needs to ease some of the political restrictions that have hampered the effectiveness of the military effort. The Administration launched a limited air campaign that proceeded at a leisurely pace, with up to three-quarters of the coalition warplanes returning to air bases without dropping their bombs because of tight restrictions and a lack of reconnaissance and surveillance capabilities needed to acquire targets.

The U.S. needs to step up its efforts in Iraq in cooperation with the Iraqi Army and Kurdish militias to defeat ISIS in Iraq before it consolidates its control and becomes a greater threat to the broader Middle East region, as well as to the U.S. homeland.

Stumbling in Syria

President Obama has overpromised and failed to deliver on a Syria policy and his Administration has been behind the curve in addressing the growing crisis. After waiting five months to declare in August 2011 that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad must relinquish power, President Obama did little to advance that goal. The Administration’s insistence on multilateralism, almost as an end in itself, led it to outsource policy on Syria to the U.N., where Russia and China exercised their veto power to block effective action.The Administration’s policy toward Syria has been flawed by wishful thinking about the prospects for diplomatically persuading a hostile dictatorship to stop repressing its own people and supporting terrorism. The Administration was slow to condemn the Assad regime for its crimes against Syrians, delayed efforts to ramp up sanctions on the regime, and dragged its feet before finally concluding that Assad had lost legitimacy as a leader. It should have been clear from the beginning that the Assad regime was illegitimate. Although the Administration offered humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees and later non-lethal aid for the Syrian opposition, it initially balked at providing arms. In 2012, President Obama overruled the advice of CIA Director David Petraeus, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey to provide arms aid. While the Administration engaged in wishful thinking about brokering an illusory political settlement, Russia and Iran showered the Assad regime with arms and economic aid. Iran also deployed Revolutionary Guards as advisers and ordered thousands of Hezbollah militiamen from Lebanon to join the fighting.

Then President Obama compounded the problem by carelessly announcing a “red line” against the use of chemical weapons in Syria without first developing a clear strategy or appropriate course to protect U.S. interests. After slow-walking an investigation of repeated incidents of chemical weapons use by the Assad regime, the Obama Administration announced in June 2013 that it would provide arms to Syria’s opposition. This was ineffective because U.S. and Western failure to provide meaningful support had allowed Islamist extremists backed by powerful Islamist networks to gain the upper hand within Syria’s fractious opposition coalition.

After a massive chemical attack on August 2013 that reportedly killed more than 1,000 Syrians, President Obama publicly threatened to launch a military reprisal against the Assad regime. After having second thoughts, he subsequently requested a congressional vote to authorize military action—a vote that he was likely to lose because of his failure to convince Congress that such an attack would advance U.S. national interests. The President then escaped from an embarrassing congressional rebuff by acceding to a risky and problematic Russian diplomatic proposal to dispatch international inspectors to disarm Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal that bolstered the legitimacy of the Assad regime, demoralized the Syrian opposition, and strengthened Moscow’s role in the Middle East.

When the Administration finally got around to providing arms to Syrian rebels, it was too little, too late. Many fighters already had defected from less radical rebel factions to join ISIS because it offered much higher salaries. The Administration’s insistence that rebels receiving U.S. arms should fight ISIS but not the reviled Assad regime made it more difficult to recruit reliable fighters. After training and arming less than 150 fighters, the Pentagon closed down its $500 million train-and-equip program in October 2015.

The Libyan Letdown

In 2011, the Obama Administration launched a war in Libya, where no vital U.S. national interests were threatened, without a clear military plan or exit strategy. The Administration’s shortsighted effort to score a quick and easy military victory over Colonel Muammar Qadhafi’s regime failed to end the threat to civilians in “days not weeks,” as President Obama promised. Instead, Qadhafi fought on for seven months in a brutal civil war that killed an estimated 50,000 Libyans before he was captured and killed in late October 2011. Meanwhile, the Administration turned the military mission over to NATO and “led from behind,” confusing allies and adversaries about the U.S. commitment to a decisive victory.

After Qadhafi’s regime fell, Libya disintegrated into a patchwork of warring fiefdoms ruled by fiercely independent militias. The weak post-war government was incapable of restoring central authority and the rule of law. On September 11, 2012, Islamist militants launched a terrorist attack against the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, killing Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. The Obama Administration, which had ignored the rising threat posed by Islamist extremists in Libya and elsewhere, in part because such threats contradicted its election-year rhetoric about al-Qaeda being on the run, blamed the deaths on nonexistent “protesters” who allegedly were provoked by an obscure film that supposedly “insulted” the prophet Mohamed when, in fact, the deaths resulted from acts of terrorism aimed at the U.S. officials.

The Obama Administration belatedly admitted that the attack was in fact an act of terrorism, but belittled congressional efforts to investigate the attacks and failed to adequately investigate and hold accountable high-level State Department officials who blocked repeated requests by Ambassador Stevens to shore up security at the Benghazi mission.

Blunders in Egypt

Egypt, the largest Arab country, is a bellwether for the Arab Middle East. The U.S. has a national interest in stabilizing Egypt, preventing the rise of an Islamist totalitarian state, and averting the eruption of a full-blown civil war in the heart of the Arab world.

The Obama Administration has been asleep at the switch for several years on Egypt policy. It eagerly embraced Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood–dominated government in 2012 and was surprised that Egypt’s people so quickly became violently opposed to Islamist rule. The Administration gambled that the practical responsibilities of governing would dilute the hostile anti-Western ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, but once in office, Morsi relentlessly expanded his own power in a winner-take-all manner while neglecting Egypt’s festering economic problems.

The Obama Administration’s enthusiasm for the Muslim Brotherhood led it to turn a blind eye to Morsi’s power grabs, the rising persecution of Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority, the crackdown on pro-democracy nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that the Mubarak regime formerly tolerated, and the restrictions that the Morsi government placed on freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion.

The Obama Administration failed to publicly criticize Morsi’s excesses, power grabs, and abuses. This led Egypt’s secular and liberal opposition to turn to Egypt’s army in despair, angry that the Obama Administration uncritically supported the Morsi regime. Many protesters demonstrating against Morsi before the July 3, 2013, coup also carried signs protesting President Obama’s support for the Morsi regime. Morsi, for his part, felt no need to compromise with the opposition or temper his Islamist ambitions because the Administration was reluctant to use the leverage afforded by $1.5 billion in annual U.S. aid to Egypt.

Secular, democratic, and liberal Egyptians opposed to an Islamist takeover should be natural allies of the U.S., not leading a backlash against American policy. The fact that Egyptians resent the Obama Administration’s courting of the Muslim Brotherhood should be a wake-up call for the White House. It is a sad sign that U.S. policy toward Egypt has gone off the rails. Egyptian advocates of freedom should know that Americans support their efforts and do not side with former President Morsi, an Islamist authoritarian leader who is hostile to American values and policies. On July 3, 2013, a coup led by the Egyptian military gave Egypt a second chance to make the difficult transition to a stable democracy. Washington should support the efforts of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, elected in 2014, to defeat Islamist terrorists, including an affiliate of ISIS operating in the northern Sinai desert.

The Israeli–Palestinian Conflict

The chief barriers to peace between Israel and the Palestinian Authority are Palestinian terrorist attacks, not Israeli settlements. Many Israeli settlements are located in areas that eventually could be folded into Israel in exchange for equal amounts of Israeli territory transferred to Palestinian control if and when borders are agreed upon in a final settlement.

Yet when the Obama Administration sought in 2009 to revive the comatose peace process, which has been on American-supplied life support since the collapse of the 2000 Camp David summit, it made a freeze on settlements the centerpiece of its strategy. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government agreed to a temporary freeze of West Bank settlements in November 2009 but balked at halting housing construction in east Jerusalem, which is claimed by both Israelis and Palestinians. It was unwise for the Administration to push for a settlement freeze in Jerusalem that no Israeli government could agree to in the absence of rapid movement for a permanent peace settlement that would include ironclad provisions to ensure Israel’s security against terrorist attacks.

The Administration’s primary focus on the settlements guaranteed friction with Israel’s center-right government and hardened the Palestinian negotiating position, because Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas could not be seen as less opposed to settlements than the U.S. Despite the fact that Palestinians had negotiated for many years without gaining such a settlement freeze, Abbas has made it a condition for resuming talks. As long as this emphasis on halting construction in Jerusalem continues, there is likely to be little progress on negotiations because the Palestinians will sit back and let Washington extract concessions from Israel without feeling any need to reciprocate with concessions of their own. To make matters worse, Abbas chose to push for the U.N. to endorse unilateral Palestinian statehood rather than relying on negotiations with Israel, which is the only genuine path to peace.


Recommendations


Put the U.S.–Israel Partnership First. The political instability that has plagued the Arab Middle East in recent years has underscored the fact that Israel is America’s only reliable, stable ally in the region. The Administration should rethink its Middle East priorities to enhance strategic cooperation and improve bilateral relations with the Middle East’s only genuine democracy.

Escalate Military Efforts in Iraq Against ISIS. Washington should expand the size and role of U.S. ground forces to include combat missions to end the ISIS reign of terror in western Iraq. Baghdad needs much more help in defeating ISIS, which already poses a growing regional threat and could pose a significant threat to the U.S. homeland if it is allowed to consolidate its Islamist totalitarian rule. U.S. military advisers should be embedded in Iraqi military units closer to the front lines. U.S. Special Operations forces should be deployed in greater strength and embedded with Kurdish militias and Sunni Arab tribal militias to enhance their effectiveness and coordinate U.S. airstrikes. A more extensive and intensive application of air power is required in Syria as well as in Iraq.

Abrogate the Iran Nuclear Deal. Upon entering office, the next Administration should immediately review Iran’s compliance with the existing deal, as well as its behavior in sponsoring terrorism, subverting nearby governments, and attacking U.S. allies. Any evidence that Iran is cheating on the agreement (which is likely given Iran’s past behavior) or continuing hostile acts against the U.S. and its allies should be used to justify nullification of the agreement. Regrettably, Tehran already will have pocketed up to $100 billion in sanctions relief by the time the next Administration comes to office because of the frontloading of sanctions relief in the early months of the misconceived deal. Continuing to fork over billions of dollars that Tehran can use to finance further terrorism, subversion, and military and nuclear expansion will only worsen the situation.

In place of the flawed nuclear agreement, which would boost Iran’s long-term military and nuclear threat potential, strengthen Iran’s regional influence, strain ties with U.S. allies, and diminish U.S. influence in the region, the new Administration should:

  • Expand sanctions on Iran. The new Administration should immediately reinstate all U.S. sanctions on Iran suspended under the Vienna Agreement and work with Congress to expand sanctions, focusing on Iran’s nuclear program; support of terrorism; ballistic missile program; interventions in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen; human rights violations; and holding of five American hostages (Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, Christian pastor Saeed Abedini, former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, Iranian-American consultant Siamak Namazi, and former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who has been covertly held hostage by Iran since 2007).The new Administration should designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization and apply sanctions to any non-Iranian companies that do business with the IRGC’s extensive economic empire. This measure would help reduce the IRGC’s ability to exploit sanctions relief for its own hostile purposes. Washington should also cite Iranian violations of the accord as reason for re-imposing U.N. sanctions on Iran, thus enhancing international pressure on Tehran and discouraging foreign investment and trade that could boost Iran’s military and nuclear programs. It is critical that U.S. allies and Iran’s trading partners understand that investing or trading with Iran will subject them to U.S. sanctions even if some countries refuse to enforce U.N. sanctions.
  • Strengthen U.S. military forces to provide greater deterrence against an Iranian nuclear breakout. Ultimately, no piece of paper will block an Iranian nuclear breakout. The chief deterrent to Iran’s attaining a nuclear capability is the prospect of a U.S. preventive military attack. It is no coincidence that Iran halted many aspects of its nuclear weapons program in 2003 after the U.S. invasion and overthrow of hostile regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi, motivated by a similar apprehension about the Bush Administration, also chose to give up his chemical and nuclear weapons programs. To strengthen deterrence of an Iranian nuclear breakout, it is necessary to rebuild U.S. military strength, which has been sapped in recent years by devastating budget cuts. The Obama Administration’s failure to provide for the national defense will shortly result in the absence of U.S. aircraft carriers from the Persian Gulf region for the first time since 2007. Such signs of declining U.S. military capabilities will exacerbate the risks posed by the nuclear deal.
  • Strengthen U.S. alliances, especially with Israel. The nuclear agreement has had a corrosive effect on bilateral relationships with important U.S. allies in the Middle East, particularly those countries that are most threatened by Iran, such as Israel and Saudi Arabia. Rather than sacrificing the interests of allies in a rush to embrace Iran as the Obama Administration has done, the next Administration should give priority to safeguarding the vital security interests of the U.S. and its allies by maintaining a favorable balance of power in the region to deter and contain Iran. Washington should help rebuild security ties by boosting arms sales to Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) that are threatened by Tehran, taking care that arms sales to Arab states do not threaten Israel’s qualitative military edge in the event of a flare-up in Arab–Israeli fighting.

    The U.S. and its European allies also should strengthen military, intelligence, and security cooperation with Israel and the members of the GCC, an alliance of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, founded in 1981 to provide collective security for Arab states threatened by Iran. Such a coalition could help both to contain the expansion of Iranian power and to facilitate military action (if necessary) against Iran.

  • Put a high priority on missile defense. Iran’s ballistic missile force, the largest in the Middle East, poses a growing threat to its neighbors. Washington should help Israel to strengthen its missile defenses and help the GCC countries to build an integrated and layered missile defense architecture to blunt the Iranian missile threat. The U.S. Navy should be prepared to deploy warships equipped with Aegis ballistic missile defense systems to appropriate locations to help defend Israel and the GCC allies against potential Iranian missile attacks as circumstances demand. This will require coordinating missile defense activities among the various U.S. and allied missile defense systems through a joint communications system. The U.S. should also field missile defense interceptors in space for intercepting Iranian missiles in the boost phase, which would add a valuable additional layer to missile defenses.

Adopt an Agenda to Bring Freedom to Iran. The Obama Administration made a grave error in muting its criticism of Iran’s 2009 crackdown on the opposition Green Movement and Iran’s chronic abuses of human rights. In the long run, a free Iran is the best hope for peace and security in the volatile Middle East. Washington must make it clear that the U.S. stands with the Iranian people, not with the repressive regime of the ayatollahs. It should publicize and condemn Tehran’s human rights violations, expose the corruption of regime officials, publicize the activities of opposition groups, and help them communicate with the Iranian people.

Support Egypt’s Efforts to Make the Transition to a Stable Democracy. The U.S. should support freedom in Egypt to advance its own interests as well as those of the Egyptian people. President el-Sisi’s government has a much better chance of laying the groundwork for a stable democracy than the Muslim Brotherhood regime that it overthrew, which was headed for dictatorship. The U.S. should leverage aid to Egypt to ensure that Cairo adheres to the terms of its peace treaty with Israel and respects the freedom and human rights of its own citizens.

Help Libya Make the Difficult Transition to Political Stability. Washington should continue to work with Libya’s new leaders to build a stable and effective democratic government and should provide technical help in repairing Libya’s damaged oil infrastructure to expedite the flow of its oil exports. Washington also should offer to train Libya’s military and intelligence personnel and cooperate with them to locate, secure, and destroy Qadhafi’s stockpile of mustard gas, remove supplies of yellowcake uranium, and recover anti-aircraft missiles and other weapons to prevent them from falling into the hands of terrorists. In return, the Libyan government should be pressed to assist the investigation into the Benghazi terrorist attacks more actively and bring all of the terrorists involved to justice.

Adopt a Realistic and Effective Policy on Syria. The U.S. should work with its European, Turkish, and Arab friends to increase international support, military aid, and economic aid for moderate non-Islamist groups within Syria’s loose opposition coalition. Although the Obama Administration initially rejected and later botched providing military support for Syrian rebels, more aid is needed to offset the growing Russian and Iranian military interventions in Syria. Aid should be stepped up for Syrian Kurdish and Arab militias that have a good record in fighting ISIS, as well as Assad. Ultimately, the goal should be to force President Assad to step down and be replaced by a transitional government that limits the influence of Islamist extremists.

Push for Incremental Steps in Israeli–Palestinian Peace Negotiations, not Rush to Failure on a Comprehensive Settlement. Washington should continue its efforts to revive the stalled Israeli–Palestinian peace talks but should refocus its diplomacy by abandoning the Administration’s counterproductive campaign for an immediate freeze on Israeli settlements, which only encouraged the Palestinian Authority to hold back from negotiations. Instead of an all-out push for a comprehensive settlement, which is impossible as long as Hamas controls Gaza, Washington should press for incremental progress on security arrangements, confidence-building measures, and bolstering the welfare of Palestinians on the West Bank. This would help to shore up support for the Palestinian Authority at the expense of Hamas, which has transformed Gaza into a base for terrorism.

Work to Create More Pro-Western Democracies and Fewer Dictatorships in the Middle East. In the wake of the “Arab Spring,” the U.S. has an opportunity to encourage and support the emergence of democratic governments that respect the rights of their own people, oppose terrorism, and reject the siren call of Islamist extremism. Washington should encourage incremental political and economic reforms by its friends, but it also must realize that the chief barriers to freedom in the Middle East remain hostile regimes in Iran and Syria and the many terrorist organizations that they support. The Obama Administration should step up its half-hearted support for pro-democracy opposition movements in Iran and Syria.


Facts and Figures


  • Iran’s radical Islamist regime is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. It has close ties to the Lebanon-based Hezbollah, which it organized and continues to finance, arm, and train. Tehran also supports a wide variety of Palestinian terrorist groups including Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine—General Command.
  • With the largest ballistic missile arsenal in the Middle East, Iran has the capability to strike U.S. bases in the region, as well as Israel, Egypt, Turkey, and a growing number of other U.S. allies, using a medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM).
  • Experts predict that Iran could develop an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that could reach the U.S., although it is not known how long this will take.
  • Iran had executed an estimated 877 people between January and early November 2015, and will lead the world with the most executions per capita for the year of 2015 with a number that will likely surpass 1,000.
  • The “Arab Spring,” which began in Tunisia in December 2010, brought popular protests, political instability, and chaos to many Arab countries. Autocratic leaders were toppled in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and Yemen, and the beleaguered Assad dictatorship in Syria fought back ruthlessly, triggering a sectarian civil war that threatens the stability of surrounding countries. Although the initial pro-democracy impetus of the popular demonstrations was encouraging, Islamist extremists are positioned to exploit the ensuing political turmoil, economic disruptions, power vacuums, and anarchy.
  • The Assad regime, aided by Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah, has provoked a civil war that has claimed the lives of more than 250,000 Syrians and driven more than 8 million out their homes and more than 4 million out of the country into refugee camps in neighboring Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq. Many of these refugees also have sought to migrate to countries in the European Union.
  • The “Arab Spring” has weakened governments aligned with the West while creating political instability, economic collapse, and chaos that has favored Islamist extremists competing for power in affected countries. Al-Qaeda also has exploited the chaos to expand its influence and carve out sanctuaries in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.
  • While Israel remains committed to a negotiated resolution of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, Palestinians have not negotiated in good faith. Hamas, which controls Gaza, rejects not only negotiations, but also Israel’s very right to exist. The Palestinian Authority, which broke off negotiations with Israel, is now seeking statehood unilaterally and hopes to gain U.N. support for this goal.

Selected Additional Resources


Ted R. Bromund and James Phillips, “Containing a Nuclear Iran: Difficult, Costly, and Dangerous,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2517, February 14, 2011.

James Jay Carafano and James Phillips, “Egypt: A Way Forward After a Step Back,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2824, July 9, 2013.

The Heritage Foundation, “Syria: Heritage Foundation Recommendations,” Heritage Foundation Issue Brief No. 4041, September 11, 2013.

James Phillips, “The Arab Spring Descends into Islamist Winter: Implications for U.S. Policy,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2754, December 20, 2012.

James Phillips, “The Iran Nuclear Deal: What the Next President Should Do,” Heritage Foundation Issue Brief No. 4468, October 2, 2015.

James Phillips, “Obama, It’s Time to Stop Shifting the Blame and Develop an ISIS Strategy,” The Daily Signal, June 12, 2015.

James Phillips, “The Obama–Netanyahu Meeting: An Opportunity to Bolster Strategic Cooperation,” Heritage Foundation Issue Brief No. 4480, November 6, 2015.

James Phillips, “Preparing for the Approaching Syrian Endgame,” Heritage Foundation Issue Brief No. 4407, May 14, 2015.

James Phillips, “Putin’s Syrian Gambit Exposes Flaws in Obama’s Naive Foreign Policy,” The Daily Signal, October 1, 2015.

James Phillips, “To Defeat Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Stronger Counterterrorism Cooperation Needed,” Heritage Foundation Issue Brief No. 4233, June 3, 2014.

James Phillips, Luke Coffey, and Michaela Dodge, “The Iran Nuclear Agreement: Yes, There Is a Better Alternative,” Heritage Foundation Issue Brief No. 4444, July 24, 2015.

James Phillips, Helle C. Dale, and Janice A. Smith, “Ten Practical Steps to Liberty in Iran,” Heritage Foundation Web Memo No. 2832, March 11, 2010.

James Phillips and Michaela Dodge, “Recent Heritage Foundation Publications on the Iran Nuclear Agreement,” Heritage Foundation Issue Brief No. 4436, July 20, 2015.

Dakota Wood, Charlotte Florance, and James Phillips, “Intervention in Libya: Lessons in Leading,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 3008, April 7, 2015.