Every war poses a basic question: Whom do you want to win? After six years, the Obama administration's answer to that question in the Middle East is hopelessly confused.
We liberated Iraq from Saddam Hussein and then abandoned it, because President Barack Obama thought he had a better plan: Turn the job of stabilizing the Middle East over to Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia.
President Richard M. Nixon tried this approach in the 1970s. It didn't work then because the revolution of 1979 overthrew the shah of Iran. It's not working now for the same reason: Iran is not a status quo power. Iran wants revolution, not stability.
Today, we're selling unprecedented amounts of weapons to the Saudis to balance Iran. The Saudis, in turn, are attacking Iranian-backed Shia rebels in Yemen. At the same time, we're helping Iran fight Sunnis in Iraq and Syria and arming the Iranian-backed government of Iraq.
So we are, literally, helping both sides in these wars. And we're even more incoherent than that. In 2011, a Western coalition, with the United States contributing air power, overthrew Moammar Gadhafi in Libya to stop him from massacring civilians. But we had no follow-up plan. Libya has become such a disaster that Egypt has intervened militarily against Islamist groups there.
The administration first said Syria's Bashar Assad was a reformer. But after he killed thousands of people, Obama said he had to go. Then, when he used chemical weapons, he crossed Obama's infamous red line. But after Assad switched to chlorine gas, the red line disappeared. So did the precedent of our Libyan intervention. Now that Assad has killed thousands more people, we're propping him up by backing his patrons, the Iranians, against the Islamic State.
Obama said Syria's non-Islamist rebels wouldn't be able to use any arms we supplied, but then promised to arm them anyhow. But when the arms finally trickled in, they were too little, too late. We've yet to arm the Kurds, the only force that is both pro-American and actually pushing the Islamic State back.
When the Arab Spring started in late 2010, the Obama administration, after a momentary hesitation, called on Egypt's Hosni Mubarak to quit. He was replaced by a Muslim Brotherhood regime, which the administration incredibly regarded as legitimate, even though the Brotherhood is as Islamist as the Islamic State.
When the Brotherhood was overthrown and replaced by Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the administration condemned his regime repeatedly. But last month, we changed course again and decided it was time to resume selling advanced weapons to Egypt, so it can fight the Iranian-supported rebels in Yemen.
In 2014, Hamas attacked Israel with thousands of Iranian-supplied rockets. When Israel responded, the United States called for a cease-fire. We have said far less about Saudi attacks on refugee camps in Yemen, even though the Israelis are infinitely more careful with their choice of targets.
For years, Obama's best friend in the region was President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, though Erdogan's conspiratorial regime was busy destroying Turkey's tradition of secular democracy. But thanks to Obama's decision to side with Assad, we've alienated Turkey, too.The crown jewel of this ridiculous policy was the Iranian nuclear deal, which Iran disclaimed in less than a week. But in a way, that deal, which the administration justifies with the argument that it will help Iran be a successful regional power, is the least of it. Of course, our flip-flops alienate our allies.
But worst of all, by encouraging both Iran and the Saudis to take the lead in the region, Obama is creating the conditions for a tragedy. If we cannot decide who we want to win the little wars of today, the contenders will settle it with a big war of their own tomorrow.