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

Israel Agreed Not to Retaliate During the Persian Gulf War—and Paid a Price for It

Feb. 19 2018

During the Persian Gulf War of 1991, Saddam Hussein fired 39 Scud missiles at Israel, killing one person and causing extensive property damage. Under intense pressure from the first Bush administration to sit still—ostensibly because Israeli involvement in the war could lead Arab states to abandon the White House’s anti-Iraq coalition—Jerusalem refrained from retaliating. Moshe Arens, who was the Israeli defense minister at the time, comments on the decision in light of information recently made public:

[W]hat was George H.W. Bush thinking [in urging Israel not to respond]? His secretary of state, James Baker, had accompanied the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Charles (Chas) Freeman, on a visit to King Fahd in Riyadh on November 2, 1990, two-and-a-half months before the beginning of the war, to obtain the king’s approval for additional deployment of U.S. troops in his kingdom in preparation for the attack on Iraq.

He was told by the king that although they would not welcome Israeli participation in the war, he understood that Israel could not stand idly by if it were attacked by Iraq. If Israel were to defend itself, the Saudi armed forces would still fight on America’s side, the king told Baker. So much for the danger to the coalition if Israel were to respond to the Scud attacks. Israel was not informed of this Saudi position.

So why was President Bush so intent on keeping Israel out of the war? It seems that he took the position, so dominant in the American foreign-policy establishment, that America’s primary interest in the Middle East was the maintenance of good relations with the Arab world, and that the Arab world attached great importance to the Palestinian problem, and that as long as that problem was not resolved Israel remained an encumbrance to the U.S.-Arab relationship. If Israel were to appear as an ally of the U.S. in the war against Iraq, that was likely to damage the image the U.S. was trying to project to the Arabs.

In fact, immediately upon the conclusion of the war against Saddam Hussein, Baker launched a diplomatic effort that culminated in the Madrid Conference in the hope that it would lead to a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It didn’t. . . .

Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: George H. W. Bush, Israel & Zionism, Israeli history, Peace Process, Persian Gulf War, US-Israel relations