In recent weeks, the White House has come under criticism for both engaging Iran and not being harsh enough on Islamic terrorist groups.  To some degree, no matter what President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaAmericans need an economy that supports more than the 1 percent Pompeo’s retreat into chaos Barack Obama wishes Michelle a happy birthday: 'You’re one of a kind' MORE does, Republicans oppose it.

Conservatives have also attacked the president for focusing on strengthening ties with moderate Islamic nations to defeat radical groups like ISIL and Boko Harem. Having served tours with the U.S. Army in both Iraq and Afghanistan, tasked with isolating radicalized elements inside those nations, I believe the president is doing exactly the right thing.   

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First and foremost, because it defuses the notion that the United States is at war with Islam.  This claim is every terrorist group’s top recruiting bullet point.

One such nation the United States must continue to work closely with is Azerbaijan.  Strategically located north of Iran, Azerbaijan has a population that is over 90 percent Muslim and a track record of a secular government, religious tolerance and a commitment to defeating radical groups like al Qaeda.

After the terrible events of September 11th, one of the first foreign leaders to call President George W. Bush to express his sympathies and his willingness to help to bring the perpetrators to justice was the leader of Azerbaijan.  This promise wasn’t just lip service.

During the war in Afghanistan, Azerbaijan took important steps to help the United States defeat the Taliban. Specifically, that nation allowed American military aircraft to use Azerbaijani air space to conduct all levels of operations, including combat missions.  Speaking from my time in Kandahar with the 4th Infantry Division, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, it is clear that air superiority in Afghanistan helped us accomplish our mission and saved the lives of troops on the ground.

Additionally, Azerbaijan allowed American military personnel and NATO forces and equipment to enter Afghanistan through staging grounds in that nation.  Azerbaijan also sent troops to Afghanistan. In other words, Azerbaijan was not on the sidelines when it came to defeating al Qaeda, which had attacked the United States.

Another important aspect of Azerbaijan is its strong relationship with Israel. Today, the Israelis get 40 percent of their oil from Azerbaijan.  This partnership is not just economically based, either.  There is a Jewish population living safely and securely inside of Azerbaijan where they have free access to worship and protection from the government against anti-Semitic attacks – which have been rare.

As our closest ally in the Middle East, a region rife with violence and tension stoked by radical groups, Israel’s partnership with Azerbaijan is important to the United States.  After all, many of the same groups that are committed to Israel’s destruction, are also equally committed to carrying out terrorist attacks against Americans.

Ultimately, the United States’ success or failure in containing the radicalized forces purporting to be Islamic, will depend on the ability of moderate Muslim nations proactively taking steps to isolate and eliminate these cults of death and destruction.

America has sacrificed thousands of our brave service members and spent trillions of dollars fighting radicalized groups in the Middle East, Southwest Asia and around the world.  I believe we need to remain engaged in the fight, but we must also rely on the moderate Muslim countries in those regions to help us achieve our goals.  To accomplish this, our government must work hard to build our alliances with those nations.

Azerbaijan in the past has proven a reliable partner in our fight against these radicalized groups. I am confident they will do so in the future and urge both nations to continue to be strong allies and work closely together.  This is critical, because failure means giving ground to the groups hoping to spread violence, destruction and terror.

Naughton has represented Massachusetts’ 12th State District since 1995. He currently serves as House Chair of the Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security. He is a major in the United States Army Reserve and is a member of the Department of State, International Security Advisory Board. The opinions expressed are his and do not represent the official position of the departments of Defense or State.