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The Rise of the Shia Crescent

Updated on June 7, 2021
Mark Caruthers profile image

BA University of Arkansas (Fayetteville) Geography & History

The Middle East the World's Flashpoint

The Middle East has began to look like something out of a scene from Francis Ford Coppala's film "Apocalypse Now," as the Islamic State broadcast their public executions around the world, with its victims having their heads lobbed off or being burned alive to send their message of fear around the globe. The Middle East is now were the civilized world ends and the world of barbarity and chaos begins, leaving the citizens who happen to inhabit that region at the mercy of outside influences. The main character in Coppala's film Colonel Kurtz employed barbaric methods to not only to defeat his enemy but also to send fear. At first the American military leaders didn't object to Kurt's tactics, especially since they proved successful. This soon changed when Kurtz allowed photographs of his atrocities to be released to the world. In the end Kurtz himself broken mentally by the savage war he had waged, allowed an assassin to murder him to free him from his suffering. In theory Kurtz's character was taken from a real life paramilitary officer during the Vietnam War, who was known to drop severed heads into enemy-controlled villages as a form of psychological warfare.

Now we fast forward to the 21st century, to a point in time where the Islamic State has obtained the technology to broadcast their horrors to the world instantaneously. War hasn't changed, the only thing that has changed is that the belligerents can broadcast their acts of horror for the world to see, now everyone has become a witness to the horrors of war. As we venture deeper into the Middle East we seem to travel further away from the civilized world into a barbaric world, into a heart of darkness.

The world denounces the Islamic State for the horrific acts they commit, but Saudia Arabia one of America's closest allies in the Middle East performs the same acts on public television to its own citizens.

The Rise of Iran the "Shia Crescent"

As U.S. politicians argue about how best to squelch Iran's nuclear ambitions, the regime in Tehran is exerting itself in other ways, winning powerful influence in neighboring Iraq and across the Middle East.

In the contest for regional dominance with the Sunni Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Iran's Shiites have extended their reach and have created what has been called an "arc of power" or a Shia crescent. The Iranian sphere of influence now stretches across Iraq, where Iran has joined in the fighting to beat back ISIS, to Syria, where the government in Tehran has worked to keep President Bashar al-Assad in power throughout the country's four-year civil war. It stretches to Lebanon, where Iranian-backed Hezbollah has become the dominate power militarily and politically. And now it has spread to Yemen, where Houthi rebels recently have taken control of that country.

The Rise of the Shia Crescent

Houthi Rebels on the Streets of Yemen's Capital Sana'a

The Fall of Yemen

In Yemen and elsewhere in the Middle East, the Obama administration has pursued a strategy of training and equipping foreign militaries to quell insurgencies and defeat networks affiliated with al-Qaeda. That strategy has helped to avert deployment of huge numbers of U.S. forces, but it has also met with repeated challenges and failures.

One major failure was in Iraq, were Washington spent $25 billion of our money to re-create and arm Iraq's security forces after the 2003 U.S. led invasion, only to see the Iraqi army easily defeated last year by a ragtag collection of Islamic State fighters who effortlessly took control of large parts of the country. Most of that $25 billion in military equipment given to Iraq by the United States basically was turned over to ISIS (Islamic State) as Iraqi forces gave up their positions and melted into the countryside. Obama's foreign policy is basically helping rearm the very people we are battling against and the cost is going to the Ameican taxpayers. I'm shocked not more is made of this huge error in judgment. America's attempt at nation building in the Middle East has been a huge failure and should go down as one of the greatest blunders in American history, it has cost thousands of American lives and only resulted in making our enemies stronger.

In 2015, President Obama touted Yemen as a successful example of his approach to combating terrorism calling Yemen's war on terror a success. Many argued that Yemen was an example of mission creep, not success, it doesn't look much like a success at all right now. Washington has supplied more than $500 million in military aid to Yemen since 2007 under an array of Defense Department and State Department programs. The Pentagon and the CIA have provided additional assistance through classified programs, making it difficult to know exactly how much money Yemen has received in total. U.S. government officials say al-Qaeda's branch in Yemen poses a more direct threat to the U.S. homeland than any other terrorist group.

The Pentagon is unable to determine the fate of more than $500 million in U.S. military aid that was given to Yemen, it is assumed that it has been seized by the Iranian-backed rebels or al-Qaeda, according to U.S. officials. With Yemen in turmoil and its government dissolving, the Defense Department has lost its ability to monitor the whereabouts of small arms, ammunition, night-vision goggles, patrol boats, vehicles and other supplies donated by the United States. The situation has grown worse since the United States closed its embassy in Sana'a, Yemen's capital, in February 2015 and withdrew many of its military advisers.

Yemen's government was toppled in January 2015, by Shiite Houthi rebels who receive support from Iran and have strongly criticized U.S. drone strikes in Yemen. The Houthis have taken control over many Yemeni military bases in the northern part of the country, including some in Sana'a that were home to U.S. trained counter-terrorism units. With the Houthis in control of Yemen, Iran now has the ability to close off the shipping lanes to the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean a huge threat to commercial shipping around the world. Other bases in Yemen have been overrun by fighters from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, making Yemen a haven for terrorist from around the world.


The Obama administration is fundamentally transforming America's Middle East policy for the worse. Obama's failures have left the Middle East at a point were regional war is a real possibility. You can't just hand bags of American dollars to strongmen who control these countries and expect things to work themselves out, that is a recipe for disaster and that is what the American foreign policy has created. What is really frightening is that the so called experts are so naïve to believe such a policy would work. I sometimes wonder if our leaders belong in an asylum because you would have to be mad to follow such a course of action. As the Middle East spirals out of control negotiators are desperately pursuing a nuclear deal with Iran, ignoring Iran's destabilizing efforts across the region, its reach into Yemen through "death to America," chanting Houthi rebels that toppled the government there, its saber-rattling on Israel's border via their proxies Hezbollah and Hamas, its growing human rights abuses and, of course, its nuclear progress.

When you look at a map of the Middle East you needn't be an expert in geopolitics to realize that Iran's influence has increased over the last few years while the United States role has diminished. The main reason for this trend is what politicians term "war fatigue", Americans are tired of its soldiers dying or being maimed for life in foreign countries far away from home, and they have little patience for long expensive wars. Americans like to see the battle simply, as one between good guys and bad guys, but in the Middle East there aren't any good guys just fifty shades of gray.


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    • Mark Caruthers profile imageAUTHOR

      Mark Caruthers 

      5 years ago from Fayetteville Arkansas

      So true my friend, who knows what the United States has something that could make the hair on the back of you neck stand up. Plus, we didn't we back the Shah in the 1970's so we could have cheap oil.

    • profile image

      Kevin Goodwin 

      5 years ago

      Good hub. But you must also acknowledge that many countries have a secret military. The United States have the Night Stalkers dont we? None the less your hub was very interesting and informative.

    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 

      5 years ago from the PNW

      Great overview. Important article. We as a nation have a lot of decisions to make. Voted up and shared.


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