I believe Charles Kupchan and Ray Takeyh have made some extremely significant points in the L.A. Times article posted below my comments.
For the past two or three years, the Bush Administration has been presenting every important feature of its Middle East policy as part of a master plan to contain the threat of hostile Iranian encroachment on a region that the United States now openly declares to be its legitimate and permanent sphere of influence. For exampIe, in explaining the new $20 billion arms deal with GCC countries in August 2007, Deputy Secretary of State Nicholas Burns announced that: "It says to the Iranians and Syrians that the United States is the major power in the Middle East and will continue to be, and is not going away." Even the American policy position at the 2007 Israel-Palestine conference at Annapolis, for the first time in the history of the Middle East Peace Process, included the suggestion that containing hostile Iranian ambitions was a parallel and equal objective.
The immediate and most apparent purpose of this aggressive posture has been to intimidate Iran's leaders into acting more subservient to their new colonial masters --- a totally unrealistic expectation. It also has less obvious but more sinister explanations:
1. It is an attempt to forcefully remind America's Arab allies, particularly Saudi Arabia, that they are dependent on the United States for protection against a dangerous and predatory Iran, and that integration into an American-led regional defense structure is therefore essential to their survival;
2. It dovetails comfortably with Israel's strategic vision and its preference that America concentrate its attention on Iran as the principle threat to peace and stability in the region. If in the process it prevents peaceful accommodation between Arabs and Iranians, and heightens tensions between Sunnis and Shiites everywhere, so much the better. If Israel's Arab neighbors are divided, insecure, and dependent on America for their military defense, and if their attention is focused on a threat from Iran, that's the best of all worlds for Israel. Not coincidentally, this fits very neatly into the Bush Administration's past and present neocon-inspired strategic outlook toward the entire Middle East.
In reality, however, America's efforts to organize the neighbors into a defensive barrier against Iran has already had at least three major negative effects in terms of U.S. strategic interests. Viewed from Iran's perspective, the geopolitical and military threat to Iran's national interests thus posed by the U.S. has led very naturally to these consequences:
2. It has hardened Iran's determination to acquire a nuclear deterrent for its own protection; that natural reaction should be too obvious to mention, but it seems to be beyond the comprehension of anyone in a policy position in Washington these days;
3. It has hardened Iran's determination to consolidate its growing political, economic and military domination of Iraq. A side effect is probably (although I can't prove this) increased Iranian pressure on its Shia allies and clients in Iraq not to make the accommodations with Iraq's Sunni minority that the United States has been promoting as essential to the stability of that country. As long as America's openly declared objective is to frustrate Iran's every ambition in the Middle East, the Iranian leadership obviously feels no incentive to promote a resolution of the Iraq conflict that enables the United States to disengage with dignity and honor. (Destruction of al-Qa'ida remnants and rogue militias of any affiliation by American military action in the meantime is nothing but a convenient bonus for Iran. While Petraeus eliminates the troublemakers, Ahmedinijad patiently constructs Iran's long-term power base. Consider that factor, please, when evaluating Senator McCain's triumphant assurances that military "victory" is already assured.)
04 March 2008
Iran just won't stay isolated
By Charles Kupchan and Ray Takeyh
Charles Kupchan is a professor of international affairs at Georgetown
University and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Ray
Takeyh is a senior fellow at the council.
March 4, 2008
The U.N. Security Council on Monday passed a third round of sanctions
against Iran. But at the same time that the United States and its European
allies were building support for the new U.N. resolution, Iran's president
was making an official visit to Iraq, the first such visit since the
Islamic Revolution in 1979. The upshot is that despite the tightening of
U.N. sanctions, the West's efforts to contain Iran are crumbling where it
matters most: in the Middle East.
While Washington continues to press for a stark policy of political
isolation and military containment, the Arab states of the Persian Gulf
are overtly pursuing a new strategy of engagement. Even the Iraqi
government, despite its ostensible alignment with the Bush administration,
has opened its doors -- hence President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's red carpet
treatment in Baghdad. If U.S. policy toward Iran is to yield results,
Washington must adjust its approach to the reality that its closest allies
in the Middle East have effectively broken with U.S. strategy.
Yet the Bush administration remains intent on mobilizing the political and
military resources needed to hem in Iran. As President Bush put it during
his Middle East tour in January: "Iran's actions threaten the security of
nations everywhere, so the United States is strengthening our
long-standing security commitments with our friends in the Gulf and
rallying friends around the world to confront this danger before it is too
The problem is that Bush's "friends in the Gulf" see things differently.
As Prince Saud al Faisal, the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, recently
explained: "We are neighbors to Iran in the Gulf region, and as such we
are careful that peace and tranquillity reign between the region's
countries. We have relations with Iran, and we talk to them, and if we
felt any danger, we would not hesitate to discuss it with them."
Although wary of Iran's nuclear program and its regional ambitions, the
Arab Gulf states are seeking to temper Tehran's belligerence through
accommodation and integration. Ahmadinejad was invited to Qatar last
December to participate in a summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council, a
privilege not extended to any of his predecessors. He visited Mecca during
the hajj pilgrimage at the invitation of Saudi King Abdullah. Meanwhile,
Egypt, which cut diplomatic ties with Iran after the Islamic Revolution,
has been edging toward the resumption of relations. Arab leaders
understand that dialogue and commerce may be the most efficient means of
taming Tehran and drawing Iran into a stable regional order.
The Bush administration should follow the lead of its Arab allies in
pursuing regional integration; a framework for doing so already exists:
the Gulf Cooperation Council grouping of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar,
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Instead of viewing the council merely as a vessel for containing Iran,
Washington should encourage its members to undertake defense integration
with each other and the construction of a cooperative regional security
order -- just as the U.S. encouraged European nations to pursue
integration even as it helped protect them against the Soviet threat.
Indeed, it was precisely because the European Union was up and running at
the end of the Cold War that it was able to successfully embrace its
former adversaries in Central Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Iran's deepening engagement with the GCC, coupled with direct negotiations
between Washington and Tehran, would similarly hold out hope of drawing
the country into the embrace of regional integration.
After three decades of isolating Iran, it is time to acknowledge that
economic sanctions, diplomatic pressure and military threats have failed
to bring Tehran to heel. To be sure, Iran's nuclear program, its support
of extremist groups standing in the way of the peace process and its
arming of Shiite militias in Iraq pose serious threats to the U.S. and its
However, containment has not worked, and the debacle in Iraq has made
clear the dangers of regime change by force. The best means of addressing
the Iranian threat are through patient diplomacy and regional integration
along the lines envisioned by America's Arab allies.