Ten Commandments for American Middle East Policy

Taking stock of the effects of eight years of attempted U.S. disengagement from the Middle East, and the current lack of strategic clarity, Russell A. Berman and Charles Hill propose some guidelines for shaping coherent and effective policies. On the danger posed by the Islamic Republic, they write:

Iran is a de-facto caliphate without declaring itself to be such. It is both a recognized legitimate state in the established international state system and a dedicated religious-ideological enemy of the established world order; it continues to play successfully on one side or the other as best suits its interests on any given issue. The U.S. government does not appear to be aware of this double game, or simply accepts it. Iran is not a polity of moderates and hard-liners; it is a revolutionary theocracy that controls and makes use of governmental and diplomatic functions to appear to a deceived outside world as a legitimate regime.

The [nuclear agreement] is the linchpin of U.S. policy. It emerged as a one-sided “deal” under which the United States has provided legitimacy and substantial support for the regime, while leaving the regime free to take steps that exacerbate the Arab world’s instability and to employ a variety of anti-U.S. acts and statements which are seen around the region as humiliations to the Americans. . . . [The deal] is seen from within the Iranian hierarchy as providing it with needed time to advance its centrifuge capability and to provide the United States with a face-saving timeframe during which to extricate itself from the region. Yet U.S. interests require ongoing presence in the region. . . .

[Meanwhile], Russia has used military power to replace the United States as the most employable, potent, and credible outside force in the region. Current U.S. trends toward cooperating with Russia and Assad’s military operations (nominally) against Islamic State, while declaring American opposition to Vladimir Putin’s international actions and ambitions—and simultaneously enabling Iran’s rise to hegemony—amount to a web of contradictions. If the United States attempts to recover some of the influence it has lost over the past several years, it is likely to find itself nearly checkmated from several directions. Russia can become a significant structural obstacle to the pursuit of U.S. interests and could develop substantial relations with traditional U.S. allies Egypt and Turkey, reducing or possibly displacing U.S. influence. U.S. strategy should limit Russian power by preventing the stabilization of the Assad regime as a Russian client state.

Read more at Hoover

More about: Iran, Middle East, Politics & Current Affairs, Russia, U.S. Foreign policy


How the U.S. Can Strike at Iran without Risking War

In his testimony before Congress on Tuesday, Michael Doran urged the U.S. to pursue a policy of rolling back Iranian influence in the Middle East, and explained how this can be accomplished. (Video of the testimony, along with the full text, are available at the link below.)

The United States . . . has indirect ways of striking at Iran—ways that do not risk drawing the United States into a quagmire. The easiest of these is to support allies who are already in the fight. . . . In contrast to the United States, Israel is already engaged in military operations whose stated goal is to drive Iran from Syria. We should therefore ask ourselves what actions we might take to strengthen Israel’s hand. Militarily, these might include, on the passive end of the spectrum, positioning our forces so as to deter Russian counterattacks against Israel. On the [more active] end, they might include arming and training Syrian forces to engage in operations against Iran and its proxies—much as we armed the mujahedin in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Diplomatically, the United States might associate itself much more directly with the red lines that Israel has announced regarding the Iranian presence in Syria. Israel has, for example, called for pushing Iran and its proxies away from its border on the Golan Heights. Who is prepared to say that Washington has done all in its power to demonstrate to Moscow that it fully supports this goal? In short, a policy of greater coordination with Jerusalem is both possible and desirable.

In Yemen, too, greater coordination with Saudi Arabia is worth pursuing. . . . In Lebanon and Iraq, conditions will not support a hard rollback policy. In these countries the goal should be to shift the policy away from a modus vivendi [with Iran] and in the direction of containment. In Iraq, the priority, of course, is the dismantling of the militia infrastructure that the Iranians have built. In Lebanon, [it should be] using sanctions to force the Lebanese banking sector to choose between doing business with Hizballah and Iran and doing business with the United States and its financial institutions. . . .

Iran will not take a coercive American policy sitting down. It will strike back—and it will do so cleverly. . . . It almost goes without saying that the United States should begin working with its allies now to develop contingency plans for countering the tactics [Tehran is likely to use]. I say “almost” because I know from experience in the White House that contingency planning is something we extol much more than we conduct. As obvious as these tactics [against us] are, they have often taken Western decision makers by surprise, and they have proved effective in wearing down Western resolve.

Read more at Hudson

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, U.S. Foreign policy, Yemen