Home/Daniel Larison/Rubio’s Confusion About ISIS and Iran Continues

Rubio’s Confusion About ISIS and Iran Continues

The Postreports on Rubio’s questioning of Kerry and Carter at the Foreign Relations Committee:

“I believe that much of our strategy with regards to ISIS is being driven by a desire not to upset Iran so that they don’t walk away from the negotiating table on the deal that you’re working on,” Rubio said to Secretary of State John F. Kerry. “Tell me why I’m wrong.”

“Because the facts completely contradict that,” Kerry replied. “But I’m not at liberty to discuss all of them here for a lot of different reasons.”

Rubio was suggesting that the Obama administration is stinting in its airstrikes against the Islamic State in order to allay Iranian anxiety about a new American military incursion into the region [bold mine-DL]. In preamble questions for Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, Rubio suggested that any American military presence would threaten Iran’s desire to be a regional “hegemon.” And by holding back, Rubio suggests, Obama is paving the way for a diplomatic deal on the Iranian nuclear program — a deal that Republicans on and off Capitol Hill are deeply skeptical about.

When Rubio and Jindal floated this idea last month at CPAC, I thought it might have just been a ridiculous crowd-pleasing line. The fact that Rubio is bringing it up again in a committee hearing means that he must really think this is a clever line of attack. The trouble is that it makes no more sense today than it did then. Iran is actively fighting against ISIS in Iraq, the Iraqi government it supports is threatened by ISIS, and ISIS itself is antithetical to Iran’s own prevailing religious tradition. If the U.S. were attacking ISIS more aggressively, it is hard to see how Iran would be alarmed or concerned by this.

This would hardly be the first time that the U.S. has waged an unnecessary war aimed at defeating Iran’s regional enemies. The odd thing is that Rubio has been strongly in favor of all these wars, and he is calling for an increase in attacks on ISIS, which means that he is faulting the administration for not going after Iran’s enemies aggressively enough. If we take him at his word, his problem with the war on ISIS is that the U.S. isn’t doing enough to fight on behalf of Iran and its regional clients. Since he won’t acknowledge that the U.S. is currently fighting Iran’s enemies, he has to concoct a confused, incoherent explanation that somehow ties the conduct of the war on ISIS to the nuclear talks. All of this is a reminder that Rubio may have a lot to say on foreign policy issues, but what he says is often wrong.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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