Edited by Cheyenne Cheng
Written by Steven Spear, Jr.
In 2014, a new terrorist group became more feared than al-Qaeda—ISIS. Videos of beheadings shocked the world, and President Obama had a new threat to the U.S.’s national security. In 2015, major world leaders announced a deal that they claimed would stop Iran from building a nuclear weapon.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)
Note: The two major denominations of Islam are Shia and Sunni, and they are often in conflict.
The U.S.-led 2003 invasion of Iraq toppled Saddam Hussein’s (Sunni) dictatorship, and many of the Sunnis in the Iraqi army left to join an insurgency group called al-Qaeda in Iraq. This new group was a branch of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda and soon took control of much of Iraq. This insurgency group was initially supported by the Iraqi citizens (because everyone hated the U.S.), but their oppressive rule made them unpopular. After losing the support of the Iraqis, al-Qaeda in Iraq began fighting the rebels in the Syrian Civil War. Al-Qaeda in Iraq’s tactics in Syria were so brutal that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda cut ties with them. In 2014, the group declared its goal to spread Islam across the world and create an Islamic state; its name was changed to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Because the Levant is a geographic area containing Syria and some of the surrounding land, much of the world refers to the group as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
American journalist James Foley was captured and beheaded by ISIS in 2014. Obama retaliate by calling for airstrikes in Syria which have been more effective than he is given credit for. He also sent military advisors to train the Iraqi army, and they have been successful in stopping ISIS’s expansion and have even taken territory away from them.
In October 2016, Iraqi forces engaged ISIS in its last stronghold in Iraq: Mosul. With the direct backing of the U.S. military, it is expected that ISIS will be pushed out within the next couple of years. Despite Obama’s success in dealing with this terrorist group, do not mistake ISIS leaving Iraq as the end: as it has done in the past, the group will probably rebrand itself when it is close to defeat and join another war. President-elect Donald Trump has not given any specific plans on dealing with ISIS.
Iran Nuclear Deal
Iran and the United States enjoyed a close relationship until the 1979 revolution that overthrew the government and the subsequent hostage crisis where Iran captured fifty-two Americans and held them for 444 days. The U.S. imposed economic sanctions after this hostage crisis, and the relationship was never the same. Iran has since attempted to create a nuclear weapon and has sponsored terrorist groups such as Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, and the Taliban.
The United States believed that Iran’s developing of nuclear facilities was to create weapons. Iran, however, claimed that the facilities were only to generate power for civilians. After it was revealed that Iran had secretly built two more nuclear facilities, the international community enacted sanctions that would devastate the Iranian economy for the next decade and pressed for negotiations over the future of Iran’s nuclear program.
After ignoring the international community for six years, Iran began secret negotiations with the Obama administration when Hassan Rouhani was elected President of Iran in 2013. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, nicknamed the Iran Nuclear Deal, was agreed to on July 14, 2015, between Iran and the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, China, and Russia. Under the agreement, Iran will not build any new nuclear facilities, it can only enrich uranium to 3.67 percent (for comparison, weapons-grade uranium is enriched to ninety percent), and it will allow its facilities to be inspected at any time by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). If Iran follows all of these terms, the economic sanctions will be removed and it will gain access to the global financial system.
Despite support from the world’s major powers, Senate Republicans strongly opposed the nuclear deal and voted to renew Iran’s sanctions for another decade in December 2016. How this action will affect Iran’s willingness to cooperate with the deal remains to be seen. Obama promises that the vote was merely symbolic, but Iran has promised to resume its pursuit of a nuclear weapon if the U.S. creates more sanctions.
President Obama has done a great job fighting ISIS: airstrikes, training the Iraqi army, and keeping the majority of U.S. military personnel away from the front lines. There are still people who say that he could have done more, but I believe he did an exceptional job. Concerning the nuclear deal, Senate Republicans are right to be skeptical of Iran, but they should to take the win and not fight Obama. Because Iran agreed to the deal, the United States (and the other signatories of the deal) have the legal right to go after if Iran if a violation of the agreement is found.
Continue reading about Obama’s Foreign Policy: the Middle East