America’s Middle East strategy continues to resemble something a backyard quarterback draws up in the dirt.

For three decades now, U.S. leaders have invaded and occupied, drawn “red lines” that go unenforced, launched air strikes, scolded murderers, entered and later abandoned nuclear accords, deserted allies of convenience and threatened further action via tweet.

Along the way, American troops have fought nation-state armies, ragtag militias and terrorist organizations and have captured or eliminated despots, jihadists and military leaders, including Iran’s top commander, Gen. Qasem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike last week.

Here we are, at the start of a new decade, on war-footing with Iran, on the sidelines in Syria and possibly on our way out of Iraq. Two of those nations are led by radicals who have some form of weapons of mass destruction and are suspected of working to develop nuclear bombs. The other, Iraq, teeters on the edge of becoming, like Afghanistan, a haven for jihadis.

America’s leaders, meanwhile, are back in the huddle with their fingers in the soil.

Elected officials, political pundits and the general public spent considerable time this weekend debating the decision to assassinate Soleimani. As is so often the case in politically related discourse these days, the focus was narrow and myopic: Soleimani had played a role in the death of many Americans over the years, so he got what was coming to him.

Rarely does one punch a bully in the nose without considering the potential fallout, however. Iran has been testing the U.S. and its allies for months now, disabling merchant ships in Persian Gulf shipping lanes, striking Saudi oil refineries and launching a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base where Americans were stationed.

What’s being lost in the public discourse is that everything must be taken in the larger context. Our Middle East policies should be driven by the following: To stem the spread of jihadist movements; to restrain the nuclear ambitions of radical nation-state leaders, and to support the security of Israel.

Soleimani’s killing was a strategy of another feather — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo justified the attack as a pre-emptive move due to “imminent threats to American lives.” (Iran responded to the attack on Soleimani with an attack on an Iraqi air base housing U.S. troops, although press reports suggest Iran intentionally missed its target — something that no doubt will be debated in Washington this week.)

All these considerations lead back to the initial question: What’s the strategy?

At a critical time in our nation’s defense, it is important that political posturing from party leaders stop and that we unify to find the best options for our foreign policy going forward. The partisan divide in Washington is more poisonous than ever and, unfortunately, we can only hope for common ground not as Republicans or Democrats, but as Americans.

REPRINTED FROM THE PANAMA CITY NEWS HERALD

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