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The Need for a New Iran Containment Policy

iranFollowing the debate in Tehran about the regional crisis, we find out that the favorable game of balancing different and opposed blocks is currently the one most important factor that shapes Tehran’s regional policy. The powerful faction of the “arm of the revolution”, that is the Revolutionary Guards Corps (RGC), is obviously enjoying a good day in spite of some skepticism expressed by its leaders following the conclusion of the nuclear talks.

Assisted by the conservative wing of Iran’s body politic of apocalyptic fanatics, it is evident now that the region and the US together have to pay for the error of separating the nuclear deal and its strategic context. Rhetoric apart, the nuclear deal in itself may not be objectionable. The point here is that it was not supplemented to a comprehensive strategy to check an Iran free of sanction, which many global powers try to gain favor with. This obviously creates considerable problems in the Middle East.

The choice was not easy-either a nuclear Iran under intense international pressure to wreak havoc in its region or a non-nuclear Iran, more self-confident and more powerful free to also wreak havoc in the region. The common factor in both scenarios is Tehran’s behavior.

That suggests that a new containment policy should be devised to limit Iran’s destructive role in the Middle East. This “new containment policy” must respect the nuclear deal, as it is now a fait accompli either we like it or not. Yet, there are many other aspects in Tehran’s behavior that, if done by any other nation on earth, require a response.

Signaling to the Iranians the deserved rejection of its regional policies, support for terrorism and political oppression is one way to get Tehran to debate the value of its current course. The Obama administration seems to have contented itself with signing the nuclear deal as the “major accomplishment in foreign policy” but without devising a strategy for the post nuclear deal Iran.

As usual, we have seen an administration more focused on domestic politics, spinning, rhetoric and a miserable poverty of strategic thinking. In the optics, the President may gain time promising Mr. Putin with a quagmire in Syria or talking Abadi away from inviting the Russians to Iraq. Yet, this is reactive. It is not a strategy. Furthermore, wishing the Russians a quagmire in Syria is simply insane. It is anger at self but misplaced.

We know it is not easy. Yet, it is abundantly clear that Iran, which has just showed the world its utter carelessness for the UN and even the nuclear agreement when it tested ballistic missiles, is not intent on behaving responsibly in its collapsing region. If the US asks regional power not to seek nuclear weapons, which it correctly does, it should be willing to provide the alternative.

And if the US is sincere in fighting terrorism, it has to address at least its direct reasons and make a serious effort to fight it.

Time is now to discuss a new containment policy to prevent Iran from behaving imputatively in the Middle East. But such a policy should be drawn only after trying otherwise to influence Iran’s behavior.

While we strongly believe that the balance of political power inside Iran is left without any serious attempt to influence it, pushing forward a project of regional security forum must come parallel with an open conversation in Washington, particularly in the Congress, about this new containment policy.

If serious enough, this should be reflected on the debate in Tehran, where the moderates do not receive any assistance, while the “arm of the revolution” and the fanatics mock the international community in a moment marked by greedy day dreaming and shortsighted political goals.

President Obama’s Middle East policy was, in a sense, a continuation of President Bush’s. Both spread the seeds of chaos each on his own way. And both paved the road for authoritarianism and violence, not for democracy and peace. It is too much for the US to weather 16 consecutive years of catastrophic policy of the kind we witnessed. But it is even more so for a region that cannot yet rid itself of its demons and embarrass its future.  

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