I’ve got my midterm exam for Middle Eastern Politics tomorrow, so I figured I might as well combine study and writing!
Recently 47 US Senators sent a letter to Iran ‘informing’ them that any deal with the US on their nuclear program would be worthless, because the Senate would refuse to cooperate, and a Republican President could scrap the deal in 2016. The letter caused outrage in the US, and it was seen as deliberately undermining Obama’s foreign policy. Iran itself responded by simply poking holes in the Senators’ logic and knowledge of law.
While the letter itself is ridiculous, it does show the way US Republicans are thinking. One of these Republicans is Marco Rubio – one of the expected front-runners for the presidential elections in 2016. Rubio took to Foreign Policy yesterday to defend his ideas on Iran. Let’s take a look at what a possible future president thinks.
“It is no coincidence that Iran has achieved a series of stunning successes in recent years as the nuclear talks under the Joint Plan of Action have unfolded.” – Rubio
Well, a big part of Iran’s success in recent years has definitely come thanks to the US – mainly thanks to George Bush. The invasion of Iraq toppled an Iranian enemy, and empowered the Shi’a majority. Many leaders who the US put in place after the fall of Saddam Hussein had close links to Iran, often having more connections there than in their own country. Installing a democratic government in Iraq meant that they could democratically choose to move towards Iran. The fact that Iran’s influence across the Middle East is growing has more to do with the current crisis than any nuclear talks.
The Obama administration has at times appeared to welcome Iran’s expansionism through its efforts to coordinate with Tehran in the campaign against the Islamic State
Republicans seem to have this idea that the US should be aiming to bring down Assad in Syria, instead working with his ally Iran. They also have the idea that the US should do everything it can to crush Islamic State. Well these are both admirable ideas, but how can they be combined? Without Iran’s help, Iraq would fall apart, and Iran will not let Assad be taken out by the US. The only way out of the Syrian crisis is through negotiating a deal between Assad and the non Islamic State rebels. As bad as that is, there isn’t really another solution.
All signs indicate that if the two sides reach a deal, it will only solidify Iran’s future as a nuclear power
This is the core of the Republican argument. Iran wants nuclear weapons, a nuclear program is the path to those weapons, therefore Iran cannot have a nuclear program. There is no room for negotiation, only force. But what happens if this is followed to a logical end? If a deal failed, and Iran continues on with its nuclear program, should airstrikes then be carried out on Iran’s nuclear facilities?
If the US or Israel were to attack Iran, the Middle East would explode. It’s hard to even imagine what would happen in Iraq. Would the Iranian backed militias start attacking US targets? Would the Iraqi government itself turn on the US? With Iran and the US fighting each other, would Islamic State simply be able to punch its way into Baghdad? Iraq wouldn’t be the end of it either. Hezbollah could attack Israel in retaliation, possibly inviting an invasion into Lebanon. The Syrian government might start attacking US jets on anti-IS bombing raids, meaning that to attack Islamic State the US would have seriously weaken the Syrian army. In effect, the US would be simultaneously attacking both sides in the Syrian and Iraqi conflicts, turning them into multisided wars. It would be the worst decision the US has made since invading Iraq in the first place.
The Republican stance on Iran seems to come from a dream world where the US can achieve whatever goals it wants, without regards to the interests of other powers or even reality. That reality is that Iran – while far from a perfect ally – is necessary to defeat Islamic State. Not only that, but negotiations are far more likely to succeed if the US is willing to move beyond an all or nothing approach, something Barack Obama and John Kerry seem to understand. What’s worrying is that a potential US president doesn’t. Marco Rubio’s dream, and the dream of his fellow Republicans, for the Middle East can bring only chaos.