Apparently, without us realizing it, Iran has become locked in a “contest of threats” with the Islamic State terrorist group. Either one threat prove the more menacing of the two, or the other will; recognizing them both as dangerous doesn’t, it would seem, generate quite as many headlines.
That is the only plausible explanation for the ubiquity of reports and analyses centering on the latest comments by US General David Petraeus, who asserted last week in an interview with the Washington Post that “the foremost threat to Iraq’s long-term stability and the broader regional equilibrium is not the Islamic State; rather, it is Shi’ite militias, many backed by – and some guided by – Iran.”
It didn’t take long for this remark (one of many made during the lengthy interview, including some on the immediacy of restoring stability to the ‘geopolitical Chernobyl’ that is Syria) to make its way to leading media outlets – some of whose headlines took the warning that Iran was “more of a threat” than ISIS out of its Iraqi context (The National Review even went so far as to say Petraeus had “split with Obama” by saying “Iran, not ISIS, is the real enemy“).
Interestingly enough, Petraeus wasn’t the first over the last week to speak along those lines; Sen. Lindsey Graham (R.-SC) told NBC that the threat posed by ISIS to the Middle East was “not even close” to that posed by Iran. Then, a particularly grim Tom Friedman wrote in The New York Times that “ISIS, with all its awfulness,” was no worse than the “Shiite militias now leading the fight” against it. The observation was repeated so often that Washington Post columnist Daniel W. Drezner dubbed it a “meme,” and suggested focusing on shared US-Iranian interests instead (because surely these trump the future of the Middle East).
On Al Monitor, Turkey-centric columnist Cengiz Candar described Petraeus’s stance as “optimistic” – at least regarding the odds of ISIS being “rolled back.” However, Candar didn’t mention that Petraeus was far less optimistic about Iraq’s chances of escaping Iran’s clutches. Can we not just say that Iraq faces two threats, both of which drag the region farther away from the calm and stability it so desperately needs?