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Why the White House Is Getting Lonelier on Iran – Walter Russell Mead (American Interest via Daily Alert)

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Why the White House Is Getting Lonelier on Iran – Walter Russell Mead (American Interest)

(dailyalert.org, Feb. 10, 2015)

The longer the President and his top aides keep pretending that critics of his Iran policy have no concerns that are worth taking seriously, the more they feed the narrative that the White House is in over its head on Iran – that it has lost sight of some important considerations in a headlong drive to get a deal.

The gravest danger to the balance of power in the Middle East today is Iran’s push to consolidate its domination of the swath of territory from Iraq through Syria to Lebanon. Instead of coming down like a ton of bricks on Iran’s regional ambitions, the administration appears to be edging toward embracing Iran as a useful partner against ISIS and its fellow travelers. A nuclear deal that lifts the sanctions without addressing the question of Iran’s regional ambitions would have the effect of greatly strengthening Iran’s hand.

Iran has consistently cast its quest for regional power as a movement of “Islamic Resistance” against the U.S. and its sidekick in Jerusalem. Iran and its allies have consistently taken the hardest possible line against both the U.S. and Israel. It would seem that the larger Iran looms in the region, the more it will need the image of anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism to legitimate its position. Why does it makes sense to think that a stronger Iran will choose alignment with the U.S. when its own political interests would benefit from a more anti-American posture?

It is argued that moving to a less polarized relationship with Iran will accelerate a transition toward a more democratic and less theocratic regime within Iran. Certainly a democratic revolution in Iran would be a welcome development. But Americans generally are bad at predicting when revolutions will take place in foreign countries, and we are worse at predicting the course those revolutions take once under way.

Finally, there is the question of our current unhappy allies. In pursuit of a new understanding with Iran, the White House has put severe stress on our existing relationships with countries like Saudi Arabia and Israel. As a result, Iran has been able to watch America’s regional position and alliance network weaken without lifting a finger or spending a dime. Under the circumstances, it looks to many as if the U.S. is dumping its old allies without securing a replacement.

If the administration has a serious case for how its Iran policy will leave the U.S. with a stronger and more useful regional alliance network than it now has, that case has not been made. The bits and pieces of the strategy that we know about don’t make sense, and the President and his team don’t seem to understand how weak and vapid the case they make to the public really is.

The writer is Professor of Foreign Affairs and Humanities at Bard College and Professor of American foreign policy at Yale University. He served as Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations until 2010.

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