Breitbart News had the opportunity to sit down with Michael Rubin, a Foreign Policy scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), to discuss the ongoing turmoil dealing with the Islamic State terror group, Iran’s encroachment, Iraq’s political situation, and the Peshmerga Kurdish fighting force.
Rubin had previously served as an official in the Pentagon and earned a Ph.D. in history from Yale University. He lectures senior Army, Navy, and Marines leadership prior to their deployments into war zones. He is the author of Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes.
Breitbart News: Will US air power be sufficient to stop the advances of the Islamic State?
Michael Rubin: US air power will be enough to force the Islamic State to go to ground. Until now, we have basically ceded a huge swath of territory to the Islamic State in which they could operate unmolested. It may be enough to temporarily check the advance, but it’s not going to be enough to roll back the Islamic state, or to eliminate them from the territory over which they now consolidate control.
Breitbart News: Do the Kurdish Pershmerga live up to their reputation as an elite fighting force?
Michael Rubin: No. The Kurds have been a disappointment second only to the Iraqi army. The Peshmerga had this vaunted reputation, and it seems as if the emperor wore no clothes. People can blame the failure of the Iraqi army on ethnic and sectarian divisions. The Kurds have no such excuse. There’s a couple of things going on here: First off, the numbers of the Peshmerga have been greatly exaggerated. Lots of old Peshmerga may not be working in the militia, but still like to refer to themselves as Peshmerga. They could be 60 years old and 300 pounds and they’re still calling themselves Peshmerga. Second, there is massive corruption within the ranks. If you are the Kurdish leadership and you claim to have twenty-thousand more Peshmerga, then twenty-thousand more salaries can be budgeted. In the United States, most people get paid via direct deposit into their bank account. In Kurdistan, there are no functioning banks, which means money is distributed in cash. It makes it a lot easier for corrupt officials to swipe money off the top.
Breitbart News: Does the Peshmerga’s overly exaggerated reputation have something to do with the US not wanting to deploy ground troops into Iraq?
Michael Rubin: We spent twenty-five billion dollars in Iraq training the Iraqi and Peshmerga forces. The claims of competence were political wishful thinking rather than a reflection of reality. Sometimes, if you want the job done right, there is no better person to do it than yourself. We can utilize the Kurds, and perhaps they are willing, but they’re not going to be enough to do it on their own. It may be time to take advantage of the Kurdish offer: to give the United States a base in their region.
Breitbart News: What is Iran’s role in the current conflict? Are they to be seen as a temporary ally, as Secretary of State John Kerry has hinted at?
Michael Rubin: The United States and Iran have a mutual interest in security in Iraq. At the same time, a Firefighter and an Arsonist have a mutual interest in a fire. It doesn’t mean that we’re on the same side. John Kerry is being willfully naive. John Kerry is Ayatollah Khamenei’s wet dream; a useful idiot with whom Iran can have its way.
Breitbart News: Where do you believe the Islamic State will focus its caliphate-expanding efforts and is there a particular regional soft spot we should be aware of?
Michael Rubin: Lebanon in the short-term, but the nightmare situation is Jordan. I would eventually expect blowback into Turkey.
Breitbart News: Do you believe any foreign entities have had a hand in the ouster of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki?
Michael Rubin: Maliki hemorrhaged a great deal of support internally. Both Iran and the United States jumped on the bandwagon. Make no mistake, the problem has never been Maliki. While he has been far from perfect, to scapegoat Maliki is to misunderstand that the nature of the Islamic State threat is through grievance, when in reality, it is their ideology. Haider al-Abadi (New Iraqi Prime Minister) is no better, and may indeed be a lot worse.
Breitbart News: Why should the Western world care about what is going on in the region?
Michael Rubin: When there is a vacuum on the world stage, its not going to be the forces of altruism that fill it. When we kick the can down the road, problems metastasize. We are fooling ourselves if we think the fighting in Iraq is because Maliki wasn’t progressive enough. the Islamic State has an ideology which it seeks to impose over the globe. We can forget about Iraq, but the Iraqi state isn’t going to forget about us.
Breitbart News: Is it fair to say the Islamic State is carrying out a systematic genocide of ethnic and religious minorities?
Michael Rubin: Yes, that is their goal. It has become very unfashionable in Washington to actually acknowledge the goals of organizations like the Islamic State, or groups like Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. We like to project sincerity upon groups that are not deserving of it.
Breitbart News: What is the mainstream media missing in its coverage of the regional firestorm?
Michael Rubin: There is a constant confusion about the root of terrorism. Its about ideology, not grievances. Also, we ignore the fact that the Kurds are just as pro-Iranian as the government in Baghdad is, if not more so. The head of Iran’s Quds force is a frequent visitor to Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan region. He’s not going there for the Kabobs.
Breitbart News: What should the US be doing?
Michael Rubin: I think we need to establish bases in both northern and southern Iraq. There is no substitute for doing the jobs ourselves, and that would enable more frequent drone warfare. What happens if we have an airplane go down in the region? What happens if we have a pilot captured? This is why we should be working more with the drones, and at the same time, establish bases, which would also create a trigger against further Iranian encroachment. The bases would allow both the Kurds and Iraqis to resist Iran’s advances. They would no longer have to balance out US interests with Iranian interests.