James Jeffrey, of the Washington Institute, has written a cracking article on the fallout, if you’ll exuse the obvious pun, of the Iran nuclear deal.
As he points out, it’s not so much the details of the deal, which was signed last July, that matter as the effects of the regional perceptions of what the deal means.
These effects flow from two anticipated outcomes of the agreement. First, the deal has given Iran the means to expand its regional heft through diplomacy, money, surrogates, and violence, namely by allowing the regime to profit from the release of many tens of billions of dollars of previously blocked oil earnings and renewed oil exports, to leave the negotiating table flush with arguable “victories” (i.e., maintaining the right to enrich uranium and avoiding a confession about its weaponization program), and to become newly attractive as a global trading partner. Second, the Obama administration, bereft of diplomatic successes elsewhere, has become so indebted to Iran for the agreement that it has avoided challenging Iran and, worse, seems to view the agreement as a transformative moment with Tehran, a “Havana in the sand.”
It’s all multiplied, not so much by the refusal to hold Iran to account, but by the apparently deliberate decision to turn the US’s back on its traditional friends.
This April, speaking with Jeffrey Goldberg in an interview for the Atlantic, President Obama stated that Saudi Arabia must learn to “share” the Middle East with Iran. The fact that he put the burden on Riyadh — a U.S. ally and, whatever its faults, a supporter of the American-led global status quo — rather than on Iran, an acknowledged opponent of that order, is striking.
The article made essentially no mention of Israel or Egypt, but the pattern there is the same – the Obama Doctrine, about which I have previously written, is to put pressure on friends and take pressure off adversaries. The goal is to encourage better behaviour from both, but the outcome is not only the polar opposite, but a perception among both friends and adversaries that the US is no longer interested in what happens in the Middle East. This is an invitation to anarchy, and will be a key learning point in International Relations 101, in future undergrad courses.