President Trump has already begun his first major foreign policy project: End Iran’s provocative and destabilizing policies by attaching an expensive price tag to Tehran’s behavior. This should have been done few years ago. When the US failed to do it then, Middle East stability started to erode quickly as the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) was expanding its “revolution export” business. The price tag was expensive at that time also, but it was at the expense of the region’s countries and US interests.
Sectarianism was rising as a regional default-line and social defense mechanism. The rise of sectarianism has begotten radicalism. And radicalism produced terrorism. Major international navigation routs were threatened. Oil sources came under Iran’s missile reach. Armed proxies mushroomed. Nuclear weapons’ capabilities obtained. And Tehran was behaving as the capital of a new rising empire while chanting day and night “death to America”, and while celebrating its “victory at last” to force the “evil Americans” to recognize its “rights”.
But “rights” to do what? To obtain all the necessary requirements of a nuclear bomb, and be rewarded for merely stopping the assembly process? Or for sending its troops as far as Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen?
Well, no more.
Now, it is the moment of reckoning. Time to wake up Mrs. Mullahs. The price tag was moved, as if by magic, from the regional and the American bill to the Iranian account. The free ride is not only over, its cost has to be paid in retrospect. Missiles developed during the honeymoon are coming now to the cashier. Regional expansion is to be rolled back.
The Trump policy towards Iran is indeed a regional game changer. It will gradually reduce sectarianism, hence terrorism and it will get the region to focus on rebuilding what has been damaged in the last few years. It will make, not only navigation, but the whole region, safer. It will strengthen the fight against terrorism. And it will position the US in a better negotiating terms with other global powers. All this capital was squandered during the last 16 years of failed American policies in the Middle East.
But the caveat is that Trump should avoid making a mistake. The Middle East is extremely deceptive. When it is seen as a calm lake, there are known and unknown ghosts under the surface, some as old as a thousand years or even more. The smallest mistake may evolve to a major crisis. Those who floated regime change policies got what they hoped for: regime change but in their own capitals. And those who saw their policies as a “cake walk”, soon discovered that they have stepped into moving sands.
How, then, to avoid making mistakes?
They say: measure ten times and cut only once. And when you measure, use standard gauges, not the ones you fabricate on the side-lines (as in the case of invading Iraq to get rid of the hidden nuclear weapons there) to serve your own objectives. We said few weeks back that a comprehensive war should be avoided in the china store called the Middle East. We also said that seeking regime change in Iran should be avoided as well. But both should be kept on Tehran’s screens at all times, until it accepts to respect international laws and norms. No diplomacy can ever work without explaining clearly the price of defiance. What should be sought is not to force the proud nation of Iran to kneel down. What should be sought is to convince the Mullahs that a constructive behavior is much more profitable than subversions and interventions.
And this is precisely why Iran should be offered a very detailed deal: Pull out your merchants of the revolution called the IRGC from other countries. Respect international law. Abide by USSC resolutions regarding missiles. Stop financing and arming terrorists. End all intervention in the political life in other countries and commit to terminate inflammatory propaganda against other countries. Then turn to build your own faltering economy.
In return: Iran has the right to develop civilian nuclear energy under the auspices of the IEA. It has the rights enjoyed by any sovereign nation in the global community, and all the benefits of building constructive relations with the countries it chooses. It is protected from any external attack so long as it threatens no one. And it will be helped by the international community to build a better future for all its citizens.
Those principles are the foundation of the global security system. Without them, the world will turn into a jungle. They should never be compromised by the big or the small, or else we will have a community without laws.
However, the offer to the Iranian regime, and the consequences of rejecting it, should be crystal clear in Tehran first. The credibility of those consequences is being built now in earnest. But at one moment or another, Iran should be offered a fair deal based on the principles of international law.
Once a country is offered such a deal, it weighs the consequences against their own credibility, then it weighs the nature and the credibility of the consequences against accepting the deal or refusing it. If it sees that refusal will be costlier than acceptance, a decision would be made accordingly.