U.S. Iran Policy Must Look Beyond Nuclear Weapons

Since negotiations between Washington and Tehran became public in 2013, most discussion of American policy toward the Islamic Republic revolved around the latter’s quest to acquire nuclear weapons. Now that the U.S. has rejected the 2015 nuclear deal, writes Michael Singh, it is high time that policymakers concern themselves with issues outside of arms control, most importantly Iran’s growing power, and malign influence, throughout the Middle East:

[E]ffectively countering Iran will require that the United States reach more deeply into its policy tool kit, beyond economic sanctions alone. These should be buttressed both by the low-level use of military force—for example, retaining a small American presence in Syria, empowering local allies, and using the threat of U.S. airpower to prevent entrenchment in Syria by Iran and its proxies—and by continued U.S.-Iranian engagement. The former is often regarded as escalatory and the latter as appeasement or legitimation of the Iranian regime, but in reality both are essential elements of a strategy of deterrence. Diplomacy is necessary to convey redlines, to explain the U.S. agenda in the region, and to understand Iran’s intentions; a willingness to use limited force is necessary to lend credibility to that engagement.

In addition, the United States should not only impose costs on Iran for threatening U.S. interests but erect obstacles to Iran’s doing so in the first place. This calls for ensuring that there are no further easy opportunities for Iranian intervention around the region, by promoting the resilience of regional states in the face of the sort of political and economic meddling that features heavily in the Iranian playbook. Success would also be aided by the development of more functional regional security organizations—one need only look at the current rift within the region’s most coherent multilateral group, the Gulf Cooperation Council, to understand that Iran hardly faces a united regional opposition. . . .

Success will require not just a plan for reinstating sanctions in hopes of one day bringing Iran back to the negotiating table but a strategy that tackles with urgency the broad and growing set of challenges in the Middle East in which Iran plays a role.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Gulf Cooperation Council, Iran, Politics & Current Affairs, Syria, 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