With so much instability in the Middle East, it's impossible to know the warring factions without a scorecard. And that includes knowing who is allied with the U.S.
For years, we've seen Iran as an unstable threat in the region as it tries to build a nuclear program. Secretary of State John Kerry suggested Monday he "wouldn't rule out anything that would be constructive to providing real stability," including military coordination with Iran concerning action in Iraq. Earlier, two senior U.S. officials stated that this administration is exploring possible direct talks with Iran over the deteriorating situation. The Defense Department quickly assured that it isn't working on a plan to cooperate with Iran in Iraq.
The U.S. seems to have been caught off guard by the speed of the extremist Sunni Islamists called Isis, which has made significant territorial gains in the country over the last week. The jihadist group is said to be so brutal that even al-Qaida extremists have distanced themselves from them.
The U.S. once held Isis leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi in custody at a detention facility in Iraq until he was among the prisoners released in 2009. It's unclear why the U.S. let this ruthless leader slip away.
The camp was guarded by reservists from Long Island, most of them New York City firefighters and police officers. When the U.S. let him go, al Baghdadi reportedly warned his captors: "I'll see you guys in New York." Army Colonel Kenneth King, who was the commanding officer of the U.S. forces at the time, was one of the people who heard al-Baghdadi's parting words, but he took them as a joke.
Al Baghadadi is now being called the new Osama bin Laden and his forces have taken the Iraqi cities of Fallujah and Ramadi earlier this year and conquered Tikrit and Mosul within the last week. Graphic images show alleged mass executions by Isis, which claims to have killed 1,700 Iraqi government soldiers. They've also reportedly captured tons of U.S. equipment, including the deadly Stinger missiles.
As if the al Baghadadi threat wasn't enough, there are worries that terrorists have been using Mexico as a pathway through our southern border. Reportedly, Mexican drug cartels and Middle Eastern extremists have for years joined forces to smuggle weapons and terrorists into the U.S.
Two years ago James Clapper, director of National Intelligence, warned the Senate Intelligence Committee that "some Iranian officials have changed their calculus and are now more willing to conduct an attack in this country in response to real or perceived U.S. actions that threaten the regime."
Ever since Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad struck a deal with Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez for weekly air service between the two capitals, U.S. officials have been worried that Iranian-backed terrorists could pick up fake Venezuelan passports and sneak into the country.
The fact that the U.S. would even consider joining forces with Iran to halt the advance of al Baghadadi and Isis forces in Iraq shows just how muddled the Middle East has become.
We might heed the words of the ancient Chinese general Sun Tzu who warned: "Know thy enemy."
By Jim Zbick