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.