Militant Islamist fighters parade on military vehicles along the streets of northern Raqqa province on June 30, 2014.

A new ‘quasi-partner’ in the fight against ISIS

Several months ago, when President Obama rallied intentional support for an offensive against Islamic State militants, he had a fair amount of success. The U.S. president did not, however, reach out to countries like Iran, despite the fact that Iran and ISIS are themselves enemies.
But there’s new evidence to suggest that when it comes to the mission against ISIS, the United States and Iran are on the same side in a practical, real-world way. NBC News reported this morning:
Iran appears to be launching airstrikes against ISIS targets in eastern Iraq, according to the Pentagon. […]
Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said he has seen “nothing that would dispute” reports that Iran has carried out airstrikes in eastern Iraq, adding that the U.S. was “not taking a position” on the matter. “We have no indication that the reports are not true,” Kirby told reporters when pressed at a briefing on Tuesday.
Awkward syntax notwithstanding, if the American and Iranian militaries are currently fighting on the same side, targeting a common enemy, that seems like a fairly significant development.
For its part, Iran’s Foreign Ministry said “there is no change in Iranian policy about helping the Iraqi government against ISIS or consulting and advising the Iraqi government against terrorists.” The agency did not, however, directly address questions about possible Iranian airstrikes.
At the Pentagon, Admiral Kirby went on to emphasize that the U.S. is not coordinating with any Iranian airstrikes. “Nothing has changed about our policy of not coordinating military activity with the Iranians,” he added.
And while that’s certainly worth noting, it doesn’t change the basic circumstances.
A Huffington Post report referenced Iran as “a new quasi-partner,” adding, “The fact that the U.S. is not challenging this level of Iranian involvement is the strongest evidence yet that the Obama administration sees the Iranian government as a tactical partner in the Middle East.”
What does Congress, which is supposed to have a role in all of this, have to say about the quasi-partnership? So far, not a whole lot. Lawmakers are weighing the possibility of a government shutdown next week, and are kicking around ideas for extending a variety of tax breaks, but there’s been very little appetite on Capitol Hill for a meaningful debate about the U.S. military offensive in the Middle East that began in August.
And at a certain level, this seems unfathomable. American airstrikes against ISIS targets began in August, and Congress not only failed to debate the policy, it didn’t even cut short its summer break. As the offensive continued, lawmakers saw no need to authorize the use of force, instead giving themselves another pre-election, multi-week break in the fall.
Now the U.S. military finds itself in the awkward position of fighting on the same side as Iran and Syria’s Assad regime, which seems like the sort of thing that might warrant some conversation among lawmakers empowered by the Constitution to approve wars.
But that conversation doesn’t appear to be happening, and the overdue debate will remain on the backburner for quite a while longer.