I, American Strategy in the Middle East

Caroline Glick is an astute observer of Israeli politics and defense policy and her recent JPost article Iran’s chess board is no exception. Regarding her main argument, that “strategic thinking has always been Israel’s Achilles’ heel,” that I feel is a step too far. Certainly there has been an on-again, off-again debate between government and the IDF regarding some policy issues, but that is not unique to Israel where the military often represents an important source of future political leaders. I will return to the issue of Glick’s position regarding “Israel’s Achilles’ heel” in the second part of my discussion. But I begin where I believe she and I are in agreement.

Beginning in 2003 was critical of the Bush administration for invading Iraq. Beyond US political critics at the time regarding absence of “exit strategy,” it was a decision which, in Glick’s words (and my own), removed “the chief obstacle to Iran’s rise to the regional hegemon… [and] by installing a Shi’ite government in Baghdad, the US set the conditions for the rise of Islamic State in the Sunni heartland.” The consequences to this are still being played out today in the Islamist “Arab Spring”, AQAP and its merger with Islamic State. By administration reading the Arab Spring was seen as the dawn a major American diplomatic goal, “democracy” in the Middle East (the fallback reason for invading Iraq in absence of WMD).

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By way of back-story, in 2006 President Bush sought to escape the Iraq imbroglio before the end of his term. To this end he appointed the bi-partisan Iraq Study Group. Ms. Glick summarizes ISG recommendations as first,


“withdrawing US forces from Iraq as quickly as possible. The retreat was to be enacted in cooperation with Iran and Syria – the principle sponsors of the insurgency [against U.S. forces]... The ISG argued that if given the proper incentives, Syria and Iran would fight al-Qaida in Iraq in place of the US. For such action, the ISG recommended that the US end its attempts to curb Iran’s nuclear program.

 
“So, too, the ISG recommended that Bush pressure Israel to withdraw from the Golan Heights, Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria in the framework of a “peace process.”

 
“Such action too would serve to convince Iran and Syria that they could trust the US and agree to serve as its heirs in Iraq.
 
By the evidence of the past ten years the ISG provided what amounted to a blueprint for American regional policy regarding Iran. Not surprisingly bipartisanship suggests a policy reflecting American interests beyond the ISG. Which brings us to the man John Mearsheimer describes as the “most important [American] international relations theorist of the past 50 years,” Professor Kenneth Waltz. According to Waltz Israel, as the only possessor of nuclear weapons in the region, is the source of regional instability leading the professor to the conclusion that a nuclear Iran will restore balance and stability. Nuclear weapons, he insists, are “peacemaking weapons…nuclear weapons bring peace.”
 
NPR [Interviewer] Wouldn’t a nuclear-armed Iran spark a Mideast arms race?”

[Waltz]“The fact is that nuclear weapons stop arms races… The Saudis are much better off relying on us (the U.S.) than getting their own nuclear weapons… It would in fact solidify their reliance on the United States.”
 
Four years before America succeeded in achieving its JCPOA with Iran as “nuclear threshold state media were already reporting that the Saudis, financiers of Pakistan’s nuclear program would have access to Pakistani nuclear weapons should Iran achieve that status. They also announced their intention to counter an Iranian with a Saudi nuclear bomb. Four years before the JCPOA its obvious response, a nuclear arms race was rearing its head in the most chaotic region in the world midwifed by Obama, who entered office promising to end nuclear proliferation. Interesting that while Israel was suspected of possessing a nuclear arsenal for nearly sixty years the Saudis did not feel sufficiently threatened to seek a nuclear deterrent!

I argued against Waltz’s nuclear “logic” in JPost shortly after his 2012 article appeared in Foreign Affairs. Interested readers will find my discussion at, Why Iran Should Get the Bomb: the argument “For”.

America’s regional shift to Iran has been attributed to Obama. This is mistake. Both Glick and I describe the policy already evident in the Bush Administration. In fact a policy of accommodation with the Islamic Republic was already evident during the Carter administration, and Reagan even sold arms to Iran (while arming also Iraq!) in the mid-1980’s, Irangate. Since wooing Iran is historically and recently bi-partisan, regardless which party occupies the White house in 2017, beyond cosmetics there is little likelihood of policy change.

For sake of brevity and simplicity I leave aside the seemingly endless “negotiation” between presidents Bush and Obama with Iran over that country’s nuclear program. Did the talks drag on for seven Obama years due to administration weakness facing Iranian “chess masters” or do they reflect instead allowing Iran to achieve “threshold” status in pursuit of Waltz’ strategy of regional nuclear détente?
 
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