In a comprehensive analysis, Tony Badran and Michael Doran argue that the Biden administration’s Middle East policy aims to reinforce and to build upon that of Barack Obama, which they term “the realignment.” As Doran explained in a 2015 essay for Mosaic, the Obama White House’s goal was to promote the interests of Iran, against those of Israel and Saudi Arabia—America’s traditional allies—in order to bring “balance” to the Middle East. This approach is bound to fail, as indeed the events of the last few years have already proved:
The doctrine of realignment builds on the erroneous assumption that Iran is a status-quo power, one that shares a number of major interests with the United States. According to this doctrine, conservative Americans and supporters of Israel fixate on Iran’s ideology—which is steeped in bigotry toward non-Muslims in general, and which advertises its annihilationist aspirations toward the Jewish state in particular—but it is not useful as a practical guide to Tehran’s behavior.
The United States, so the thinking goes, [can, through rapprochement with Iran], finally remove itself from the war footing that traditional allies, with their anti-Iran agenda, have forced on it. Thereafter, diplomatic engagement with Iran will be the primary tool needed to maintain regional stability.
The realignment rests on, to put it mildly, a hollow theory. It misstates the nature of the Islamic Republic and the scope of its ambitions. A regime that has led “Death to America” chants for the last 40 years is an inveterately revisionist regime. The Islamic Republic sees itself as a global power, the leader of the Muslim world, and it covets hegemony over the Persian Gulf—indeed, the entire Middle East. But the only instrument it has ever had to achieve its objectives is regional subversion.
Iran’s militia network and nuclear program have made it strong enough to be a major factor in every troubled corner of the Middle East, but not strong enough to build an alternative order. Herein lies a curious contradiction in Khamenei’s project. Iran cannot actually hold or stabilize contested areas without a helpful American posture.
This entire strategy, moreover, aligns neatly with left-wing “cosmology.”
It equates a policy of containing Iran with a path to endless war, and transforms a policy of accommodating Iran into the path to peace. It reduces the complexities of the Middle East to a Manichean morality tale that pits the progressives against their mythological foes—evangelical Christians, “neoconservatives,” and Zionists. The realignment depicts these foes as co-conspirators with the Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman, and the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, plotting to keep America mired in the Middle East.