Bogus foreign-policy debates

How we’re helping our enemies fool us

World news has become complicated lately.

Or has it? Consider these headlines:

Abu Mohammed al-Julani, the leader of the Syrian al Qaeda affiliate group known as Jabhat al-Nusra, announced last week that his organization will henceforth be known as Jabhat Fath Al-Sham, and it will splinter from the al Qaeda constellation of terrorist organizations.

Don’t be fooled. This isn’t an acrimonious divorce; it’s a gentlemen’s agreement about how to put the best possible face on jihadist violence in Syria’s chaotic civil war.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran’s terrorist-sponsoring Praetorian guards, are now engaged in a campaign to delegitimize Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his loyalists, claiming they have undermined the principles of the Iranian revolution. Rouhani last year negotiated a nuclear deal with six world powers that allowed Iran to maintain much of its nuclear infrastructure, and also gained his regime some $100 billion in sanctions relief.

Let’s be clear: This isn’t a principled fight between hardliners and moderates. It’s a power struggle between two factions with unwavering loyalty to an extremist regime.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s Islamist president, is battling it out with his former ally, Fetullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric who is alleged to be behind the July 15 failed coup d’état. Since then, more than 66,000 people have been arrested or removed from their jobs, with 18,000 detained. And the purge continues, with more than 30 journalists jailed, 16 television stations unplugged, 45 newspapers shuttered and 29 publishing houses banned from publishing books.

So this isn’t a battle to preserve Turkey’s democracy. It’s a concerted campaign to destroy it.

Russia-based Edward Snowden, who leaked huge numbers of classified US documents in 2013, is now slamming WikiLeaks for insufficiently curating its most recent dump of Democratic National Committee e-mails.

WikiLeaks, also widely believed to be a Russian asset, rebuked Snowden for pandering to Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton.

This isn’t an argument about morals or ethics. It’s a disagreement over best practices for undermining the world’s most powerful country.

Let’s switch to domestic foreign-policy debates:

Democrats hammered GOP nominee Donald Trump’s calls for Russia to hack Clinton’s e-mails. This, coupled with reports Trump may have closer ties with Russia than previously believed, raises troubling questions about whether he might yield to Russia on certain issues as president. This comes after President Obama stood idly by as Russia asserted itself in Ukraine, not to mention Syria.

Remarkably, the parties seem to be arguing about the proper way to yield to Russian interests.

The Pentagon announced on Friday that the war against the Islamic State — in Iraq and Syria — has exceeded $8 billion in total cost, or $11.8 million per day since the United States entered the war in 2014. There’s no plan yet for the US-led coalition to eject the Islamic State from its de facto capital of Raqqa, Syria. When Obama campaigned for president in 2008, he slammed America’s costly involvement in Iraq ($1.7 trillion), and he vowed to end it.

The disagreement here is no longer about the need for conflict. It now seems to be about whether we should spend more money on poorly planned wars we’re trying to win or less on unplanned wars where a path to victory has yet to be determined.

In short, dizzying debates are obfuscating the facts. Our enemies seem to be manufacturing disputes for our consumption that amount to distinctions without much difference. We’re doing the same at home. It has to stop.

On the international front: Beware of jihadi groups in Syria, even when they aren’t affiliated with al Qaeda (the word “jihadi” should be a dead giveaway). The current regime in Iran, no matter who’s in charge, will be made up of hardliners. Turkey, a crucial NATO ally, is careening toward an Islamist autocracy. And the Kremlin is meddling unimpeded in our affairs.

At home: We continue to squabble while we allow adversaries like Russia and Iran to advance. In the meantime, threats from the Middle East are constant, whether we like it or not. A winning strategy is still needed.

Article originally published in the New York Post

Jonathan Schanzer is vice president for research at Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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