President Trump announced a new policy with regard to the unsigned nuclear weapons agreement with Iran in which he pledged Iran would be made to pay a price for its terrorist acts and aggression. The problem, however, is that whenever we have been challenged by Iran, we have failed to meet the challenge. Nothing has changed. The latest episode involves the sellout of our only reliable ally, the Kurds, who did essentially all the heavy lifting, with 1,700 of their Peshmerga fighters killed, in the defeat of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
The sellout started with our failure to support Kurdistan’s Sept. 25 referendum for independence, which was overwhelmingly supported by the Kurds. For a great nation to stand back and state that we would not take sides but remain neutral was unconscionable. The fact is we didn’t even remain neutral. On Oct. 14, Maj. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, who commands the Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Quds Force, arrived in the Kurdish city of Kirkuk, the Jerusalem of Kurdistan, and cut a deal, which cynically took advantage of the long-standing rivalry between the two principal Kurdish clans, the Barzanis and the Talabanis.
Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and leader of the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), and Jalal Talabani, head of the Talabani clan before his recent death, leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) party, and close to Iran, have vied for years for control of Iraqi Kurdistan. According to Jonathan Spyer in an article in The American Interest, the deal that was cut between one of the Shiite militia leaders and Bafil Talabani (Jalal’s eldest son) involved establishing a “new authority in the Halabja-Sulaymaniyah-Kirkuk area to be jointly administered by the Iraqi government and the Kurds (or rather the PUK) for an undefined period.” Make no mistake, the Iraqi government is controlled by Iran. Mr. Spyer went on to state, “The federal government would manage the oil wells of Kirkuk and other strategic locations in the city while also overseeing the public-sector payroll.”
The fact that three years ago, it was the Kurdish Peshmerga forces that saved the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and other areas when the Iraqi Army deserted Kirkuk in the face of the Islamic State onslaught, was dismissed. Under the “deal,” the Peshmerga forces in Kirkuk loyal to the Talabani clan deserted their positions on Oct. 16 when the Iranian Quds Force commander, Gen. Suleimani’s combined force of U.S.-armed and -trained Iraqi Army and Shiite militias took over Kirkuk and other areas, forcing the Kurdish KDP Peshmerga force, totally outgunned, to withdraw. According to various sources, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi would never have ordered the strike on Kirkuk without a “green light” from the U.S. Consequently, President Trump was trumped by Iran by the duplicity of his own State and Defense Departments. As a result, we have further diminished our credibility as a reliable ally.
By failing to support Kurdistan’s independence, what we have done once again is to facilitate the expansion of the Iran-controlled Shiite Crescent. In the past, it hasn’t mattered whether it was a Democrat or Republican administration, they have all failed to counter direct and indirect challenges by Iran. One of the greatest stains on our national honor occurred 34 years ago this past Monday, when on Oct. 23, our U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon were blown up, killing 241 of our finest military personnel. We had proof positive that the orders for that terrorist bombing came direct from Tehran. We had our planes loaded not once but twice and were prepared to totally wipe out the Iranian-backed terrorist group, which was holed up in the Lebanon Army Sheik Abdullah Barracks above Baalbek. But because of the deliberate, undercutting sabotage actions by our own secretary of Defense, we could not get the execute order to strike.
We are living with that unbelievable decision not to retaliate to this day. We could have changed the course of history. I have never been able to find out who got to our secretary of Defense, but I suspect it was elements of the powerful Washington Iran lobby group that still is influencing our policies. Allowing the Iranian regime to escape accountability for the Sept. 11 attacks nearly 20 years later compounded that original cowardly decision many times over.
Having already destroyed Saddam Hussein’s Sunni army, by failing to support Kurdistan independence, we now have essentially removed the only other possible remaining blocking force to prevent Iran from establishing its declared land bridge from Tehran through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon where it can directly threaten Israel’s survival. The president has been sold out by a compromised national security team that must be replaced.
Our strategy for the Middle Ease must support the president’s latest declaration. It must prevent further expansion of the Shiite Crescent by supporting an independent Kurdistan. The president should immediately direct the secretary of Defense to establish a forward operating base in Irbil. F-16s and A-10 aircraft could be rotated in and out to provide direct support to the Kurdish Peshmerga forces. Further, the secretary of Defense should be directed to provide military equipment directly to the Peshmerga forces so that they can successfully defeat any further offensive actions by the Iranian-dominated Iraqi government and Shiite militia forces. An independent Kurdistan is essential to preventing Iranian hegemony as well as restoring our credibility.
• James A. Lyons, a retired U.S. Navy admiral, was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations.