Iran’s clandestine nuclear weapons program has merely been one aspect of the problem the Islamic Republic has posed to the stability of the Middle East.  Since 1979, one of the primary problems in the Middle East has been the attempt by the Shia fundamentalist rulers of Iran to export their revolution.

Between 1979 and 9/11, the U.S. pursued alliance with the pro-U.S. Arab Sunni states and confrontation with Shia extremists.  This strategy had succeeded in containing Iran despite serious challenges from Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait.  After 9/11, the U.S. began confrontation against Sunni fundamentalists as well.            

The Obama administration has pursued a policy of rapprochement with Iran’s rulers and leaving Iraq to the allies of Iran.  Obama also rejected the Clinton-Petraeus plan, which would have covertly provided assistance to the Syrian moderate opposition forces.  At the time, the Assad regime was on the verge of collapse.  Such a collapse would have caused a major strategic defeat for Iran.  Hezbollah and Iran provided massive support to the Assad regime. 

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Obama’s policy of rapprochement with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, which the Obama deal is but the latest example of, leaves other actors in the region to confront the Islamic Republic on their own.  Obama’s policy has not made Khamenei stop expanding Iran’s influence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and Bahrain.  There is no reason to believe that with the further disengagement of American power from the region, Khamenei would not attempt to expand Iran’s influence in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, where much of the Kingdom’s oil and Shia population are located at.  Iran has already helped establish the so-called Saudi Hezbollah, which according to the FBI was responsible for the Khobar Towers attacks on June 25, 1996 that killed 19 American military personnel.     

Obama’s strategy has clearly failed.  Obama’s policy of rapprochement with Khamenei has managed to alienate Arab allies (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Egypt, and Algeria), antagonize Israel, confuse Turkey, demoralize the Iranians who oppose the fundamentalist regime, and stabilize the fundamentalist regime in Iran.  The Islamic State, which is far more extreme than al Qaeda, has actually succeeded in establishing a functioning state in large landmass in Iraq and Syria.  The overthrow of the fundamentalist regime in Iran would be the greatest strategic victory for the U.S. since the collapse of the Soviet Union.  The rapprochement with Iran while Iran has been pursuing such policies has further increased Iran’s power.      

If the fundamentalist regime in Iran was to cheat and continue its clandestine nuclear weapons program as it has done since the program began in mid-1980s, the world would have to confront a nuclear-armed regime when it succeeds in completing the bomb.  If this nightmare scenarios became true, history would judge Obama’s policy on Iran as worse than Chamberlain’s policy toward Nazi Germany. Obama failed to see the rise of ISIS and the collapse of the pro-U.S. Yemeni government despite having extensive intelligence assets on the ground in both countries.  There is little reason to assume that Khamenei’s mindset or the capabilities of American intelligence have changed dramatically in the past months.               

Drastic changes in American policies toward the Middle East may be the best way, if not the only way, to reverse the current trends.  First, the U.S. policy toward Iran should be regime change, not rapprochement.  Second, the U.S. should support the division of Iraq into Kurdish, Sunni Arab, and Shia Arab states.  This is probably the best way to stop the Shia oppression of the Sunni population, and thus undermine ISIS.  The Kurdish state will be democratic, stable, and strongly pro-American.  Third, the U.S. should pursue the Clinton-Petraeus plan. And fourth, the U.S. should repair the alliance with the Arab Sunni allies.  

The first step toward reversal of Obama’s rapprochement policy on Iran can be the Congressional rejection of the nuclear deal.  If Congress is able to muster a veto-proof majority, then the reversal may begin right away.  And if Congress can reject the deal with less than two-thirds majority, then it will leave the next president, Republican or Democrat, unshackled by the far-reaching commitments and concessions of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and the U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231.

 

Kazemzadeh is associate professor of political science at Sam Houston State University.