Restoring US leadership after the Iran deal

Addressing these complex issues will require cohesive regional diplomacy with broad participation from countries that do not normally work together.

October 11, 2015 20:20
3 minute read.

THE MARINE One helicopter departs from the White House in Washington DC. The writer asks: Can US President Obama restory US influence in the wake of the Iran deal?. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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The deadline for Congress to reject the Iran deal has come and gone. Like many in the Jewish community who steadfastly opposed the deal, I believe a short-term delay for Iran’s nuclear ambitions is not enough if our children and our children’s children won’t be safe in their homes, both in Israel and in the United States. While it’s easy to wish a better deal had been negotiated, our focus and energy must now turn to enforcing the deal. Meaning, dealing responsibly with the agreement’s shortcomings that allow Iran to engage in regional mischief, and maintaining strong American leadership in the Middle East.

Based on historical evidence, we have no doubt the Iranians will violate the deal. Therefore, we must actively monitor the implementation of the agreement to ensure that any Iranian violation is brought to light and punished to the full extent, which includes keeping the military option on the table.

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To be clear, the means with which the P5+1 reached the agreement was not the problem. In fact, diplomacy should always be the preferred route to resolve disputes. But when it comes to United States acting as an influential force for good in the Middle East, it is important to remember that the nuclear agreement with Iran is just one piece of the diplomatic puzzle.

There is a much wider set of issues that impact the security of the United States and Israel, requiring a focused, strategic and, if possible, multilateral response – be it diplomatic or military.

As US President Barack Obama said in his address to the UN General Assembly, “We cannot look backwards. We live in an integrated world – one in which we all have a stake in each other’s success... if we cannot work together more effectively, we will all suffer the consequences.”

This could not be truer than in the Middle East, where the massive challenges facing the region cannot be solved by just one nation, or even by a coalition of nations, without imaginative leadership. Whether it is implementing the Iran agreement in a way that truly prevents Tehran from acquiring nukes, ending the crisis in Syria, combating Islamic State and other extremist groups, or resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, one country can’t do it all.

Addressing these complex issues will require cohesive regional diplomacy with broad participation from countries that do not normally work together.

In the Palestinian-Israeli context, for instance, a new regional dynamic between Israel and the Gulf States that can stand up to Iran’s desire to expand its hegemony could lead to new prospects to implement the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative as the basis to resolve the conflict.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Sisi subtly alluded to this point at the UN recently. He said that making peace is imperative “so that the nations of the region may focus on building their future together, in order to achieve prosperity and build a better future for the coming generation.” The United States has a critical role to play in supporting these kinds of promising new initiatives.

There is no escaping the reality that for every conflict affecting the Middle East right now, genuine US leadership, alongside a determination to use everything in our power to protect the security of America and our allies, is needed more than ever. After watching our efforts to stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan come undone, America’s reluctance to engage more deeply in places like Syria is understandable.

Still, doing nothing and letting Russia fill the void should is not a solution; just as actions have consequences, so too, does inaction.

In his speech to the UN, President Obama also said, “Leaders of large nations, in particular, have an obligation to take these risks – precisely because we are strong enough to protect our interests if, and when, diplomacy fails.” The United States must use all of its strengths – political, diplomatic, economic and, when necessary, military – to take the kinds of risks that can spur regional and international cooperation to solve the Middle East’s most pressing challenges.

The consequences of inaction, and failure, are too great.

The author is the president of the American Jewish Congress and the chairman of the American Council for World Jewry.

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