To Counter Iran Effectively, the U.S. Must Beat It at Its Own Game

Dec. 21 2017

Tehran’s success at turning the upheavals that followed the Arab Spring to its benefit is attributable not just to its military might but to its political savvy, writes Samuel Tadros. To prevent Iran from consolidating and expanding its power in the Middle East, the U.S. must use political tools of its own:

The [primary source] of Iran’s strength is its masterful ability to play internal fissures and grievances across the region to its advantage. Unlike American policymakers, who remain fixated on the nation state, Iranian policymakers see a map of ethnic, political, and sectarian divides. With the political foundation of the broader Middle East—the nation state—crumbling, Iran has been able to utilize minority communities and create replicas of Hizballah across the region.

A U.S. strategy designed to confront Iran’s regional hegemony should forgo the traditional mindset of nation states and deal with the region as it truly is. . . . Such a new mindset would require the United States to develop a Kurdistan strategy that acknowledges the Kurdistan Regional Government [in Iraq] as an important ally with potential influence among all Kurdish speakers, including inside the Islamic Republic. Such a mindset would also forgo attempts at shoring up Lebanon’s Hizballah-controlled government and military and instead focus on building alternative competing forces within the country.

The second source of Iranian strength has been its ability to monopolize Shiite religious authority. The Arab Shiites’ gaze will remain on Tehran so long as the main dividing line in the region is the Sunni-Shiite conflict and so long as Arab Shiites feel threatened by Sunnis and fearful of Sunni hegemony. The United States should therefore help strengthen Arab Shiite religious and secular actors who reject the Iranian model and who take pride in their Arab or [national] identities. Such figures exist in Iraq among both its religious authorities and its politicians. The United States should help them develop an effective counterstrategy to Iranian infiltration.

Third, Iran has mastered the propaganda game in the Middle East. Iran’s Arabic-language channel and media are highly effective in spreading Iranian propaganda, undermining American influence, and extending conspiracy theories about the West and Israel. . . . Any effective U.S. strategy should seek to undermine and counter its message.

Read more at Caravan

More about: Iran, Kurds, Middle East, Politics & Current Affairs, 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