Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

The Three-Headed Hydra of the Middle East

by Victor Davis Hanson// National Review

Trump has inherited a matrix of problems that primarily stem from Iran, Russia, and ISIS.

The abrupt Obama administration pre-election pullout from Iraq in 2011, along with the administration’s failed reset with Russia and the Iran deal, created a three-headed hydra in the Middle East.

What makes the Middle East monster deadly is the interplay between the Iranian terrorist regime and its surrogates Hezbollah and the Assad regime; Russian president Vladimir Putin’s deployment of bombers into Syria and Iraq after a 40-year Russian hiatus in the region; and the medieval beheaders of the Islamic State.

Add into the brew anti-Americanism, genocide, millions of refugees, global terrorism, and nuclear weapons.

ISIS is simultaneously at war against the Assad regime, Iran and Iranian surrogates such Hezbollah, and Russian expeditionary forces. ISIS also seeks to energize terrorist attacks in the United States and Europe.

Stranger still, ISIS almost surely is receiving stealth support from Sunni nations in the Middle East, some of them ostensibly American allies.

This matrix gets even crazier.

The authors of reset policy during the Obama administration are now furious at President Trump for even talking about what they tried for years: reaching out to Putin. Yet in the Middle East, Russia is doing us a favor by attacking ISIS, even as it does no favors in saving the genocidal Assad regime that has murdered tens of thousands of innocents — along with lots of ISIS terrorists as well.

Iran is the sworn enemy of the United States, yet its foreign proxies attack our shared enemy, ISIS. The very troops who once blew up Americans in Iraq with shaped charges are for now de facto allies on the Syrian and Iraqi battlefields.

Given that there is now no political support for surging thousands more U.S. troops into Iraq to reverse the disastrous Obama-administration pullout, there are three strategic choices in dealing with the Middle East hydra, all of them bad:

One, hold our nose, and for now ally with Russia and Iran to destroy ISIS first. Then deal with the other rivalries later on. (The model is the American-Soviet alliance against Hitler that quickly morphed after 1945 into the Cold War.

Two, work with the least awful of the three, which is probably Russia. (The model might be Henry Kissinger’s outreach to Mao’s China that left Moscow and Beijing at odds and confused over the role of the United States.)

Three, simply keep out of the mess and let them all diminish one another, despite the collateral damage to the innocent. (The model is the savage Iran–​Iraq war of 1980–​88 that weakened U.S. enemies Saddam Hussein and the Iranian theocracy, though it resulted in some 800,000 deaths.)

In the short term, option three is ostensibly the least costly – at least to the U.S. But 2 million Syrian and Iraqi refugees have swarmed Europe, coinciding with an uptick in radical Islamic terrorism. Syria is becoming the new Balkans or Rwanda – and nonintervention would mean allowing the wasteland to spread, as hundreds of thousands more civilians die or flee westward.​

Which of the other two options is the least objectionable?

After 2014, we quietly pursued option one by fighting in parallel fashion with Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, and the Assad government against ISIS, the more dreadful enemy.

Apparently, the Obama rationale was that when ISIS was destroyed, the U.S. could then come to terms with an energized and empowered Iran rather than with Russia. The jury is out on that strategy.

The second option so far seems to be President Trump’s preference: a new détente with Putin in the hope that he will back off even a bit from his support of Iran and Hezbollah as we jointly fight ISIS.

The flipping-Russia approach may seem unlikely: It assumes nuclear Russia is far less of a threat than soon-to-be-nuclear Iran. Would Putin really be willing to write off a half-century of Russian support for Syria?

Or can Putin see that the U.S. has mutual interests with Russia in opposing all Islamic extremism – both ISIS and Putin’s Iranian clients?

Would the mercurial Putin work with moderate Sunni regimes, Israel, and the U.S. to provide regional stability?

Can Trump persuade Putin that having Iran as yet another nuclear power near the borders of the old Soviet Union (in addition to Pakistan, India, North Korea, China, and NATO forces) is not in Russia’s interest? Would overlooking Putin’s autocracy be any worse than the Obama administration’s negotiations with a murderous Iran, the world’s chief sponsor of terrorism?

What would be Putin’s steep price to abandon Assad, to ensure that Iran stays non-nuclear, and to finish the destruction of ISIS?

Overlooking Russian autocracy? Keeping mum should Putin threaten autonomous nations on his border?

These are bad choices.

Trump, a political outsider, did not create the monster. Rather, he inherited from past U.S. leaders the three-headed hydra of the Middle East.

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About victorhanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture. He recently published an historical novel The End of Sparta (2012), a realistic retelling of Epaminondas invasion and liberation of Spartan-control Messenia. In The Father of Us All (2011), he collected earlier essays on warfare ancient and modern. His upcoming history The Savior Generals(2013) analyzes how five generals in the history of the West changed the course of battles against all odds. He was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 and the Bradley Prize in 2008. Hanson, who was the fifth successive generation to live in the same house on his family’s farm, was a full-time orchard and vineyard grower from 1980-1984, before joining the nearby CSU Fresno campus in 1984 to initiate a classical languages program. In 1991, he was awarded an American Philological Association Excellence in Teaching Award, which is given yearly to the country’s top undergraduate teachers of Greek and Latin. Hanson has been a National Endowment for the Humanities fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford, California (1992-93), a visiting professor of classics at Stanford University (1991-92), a recipient of the Eric Breindel Award for opinion journalism (2002), an Alexander Onassis Fellow (2001), and was named alumnus of the year of the University of California, Santa Cruz (2002). He was also the visiting Shifrin Professor of Military History at the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland (2002-3). He received the Manhattan Institute’s Wriston Lectureship in 2004, and the 2006 Nimitz Lectureship in Military History at UC Berkeley in 2006. Hanson is the author of hundreds of articles, book reviews, scholarly papers, and newspaper editorials on matters ranging from ancient Greek, agrarian and military history to foreign affairs, domestic politics, and contemporary culture. He has written or edited 17 books, including Warfare and Agriculture in Classical Greece (1983; paperback ed. University of California Press, 1998); The Western Way of War (Alfred Knopf, 1989; 2d paperback ed. University of California Press, 2000); Hoplites: The Ancient Greek Battle Experience (Routledge, 1991; paperback., 1992); The Other Greeks: The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization(Free Press, 1995; 2nd paperback ed., University of California Press, 2000);Fields without Dreams: Defending the Agrarian Idea (Free Press, 1996; paperback, Touchstone, 1997; The Bay Area Book reviewers Non-fiction winner for 1996); The Land Was Everything: Letters from an American Farmer (Free Press, 2000; a Los Angeles Times Notable book of the year); The Wars of the Ancient Greeks (Cassell, 1999; paperback, 2001); The Soul of Battle (Free Press, 1999, paperback, Anchor/Vintage, 2000); Carnage and Culture (Doubleday, 2001; Anchor/Vintage, 2002; a New York Times bestseller); An Autumn of War (Anchor/Vintage, 2002); Mexifornia: A State of Becoming (Encounter, 2003),Ripples of Battle (Doubleday, 2003), and Between War and Peace (Random House, 2004). A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War, was published by Random House in October 2005. It was named one of the New York Times Notable 100 Books of 2006. Hanson coauthored, with John Heath, Who Killed Homer? The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom (Free Press, 1998; paperback, Encounter Press, 2000); with Bruce Thornton and John Heath, Bonfire of the Humanities (ISI Books, 2001); and with Heather MacDonald, and Steven Malanga, The Immigration Solution: A Better Plan Than Today’s (Ivan Dee 2007). He edited a collection of essays on ancient warfare, Makers of Ancient Strategy (Princeton University Press, 2010). Hanson has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, International Herald Tribune, New York Post, National Review, Washington Times, Commentary, The Washington Post, Claremont Review of Books, American Heritage, New Criterion, Policy Review, Wilson Quarterly, Weekly Standard, Daily Telegraph, and has been interviewed often on National Public Radio, PBS Newshour, Fox News, CNN, and C-Span’s Book TV and In-Depth. He serves on the editorial board of the Military History Quarterly, and City Journal. Since 2001, Hanson has written a weekly column for National Review Online, and in 2004, began his weekly syndicated column for Tribune Media Services. In 2006, he also began thrice-weekly blog for Pajamas Media, Works and Days. Hanson was educated at the University of California, Santa Cruz (BA, Classics, 1975, ‘highest honors’ Classics, ‘college honors’, Cowell College), the American School of Classical Studies, Athens (regular member, 1978-79) and received his Ph.D. in Classics from Stanford University in 1980. He divides his time between his forty-acre tree and vine farm near Selma, California, where he was born in 1953, and the Stanford campus.

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