Saturday, April 04, 2015

Will the Iran Deal Bring a New Political Order to the Middle East?

"Iran topo en". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -
While the Republican response to the announcement of an agreement with Iran to control its nuclear program has been to (i) attack Barack Obama, (ii) declare that the GOP will torpedo the deal, and (iii) claim war with Iran is the real answer - never mind that the disaster would make the Iraq War fiasco look good in comparison - and would bust the federal budget and throw away countless American lives - saner response believe the deal is a good starting pint and that it could readjust the political landscape of the Middle East.  To date, American policy has been to prop up Israel and pander to extremist Saudis while alienating everyone else, including Iran, the most populous nation in the Middle East.  (For comparison, Iran has 78.4 million inhabitants versus Iraq's 36 million - Israel has 8.2 million and Saudi Arabia has 30.7 million).  As a piece in the Washington Post reviews, the Iran agreement could shift much of this.  Here are article excerpts:
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani pledged Friday that his country would honor what he called a historic agreement to curb its nuclear program, provided that world powers uphold their end of the deal to ease economic pressures.

“We don’t cheat. We are not two-faced,” Rouhani declared in an upbeat televised address to the nation a day after negotiators reached a framework on the nuclear deal. He added: “If we’ve given a promise . . . we will take action based on that promise. Of course, that depends on the other side taking action on their promises, too.”

But a range of other views across the Middle East — including cautious hope in Saudi Arabia, internal dissent in Iran and open hostility in Israel — underscored the potentially difficult diplomatic and security challenges facing Washington among even some of its strongest allies, and how the region’s political dimensions could be reordered by the possibility that the United States and Iran might move beyond an estrangement that reaches back more than 35 years.

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stood firm on his opposition to any deal

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman staked out less confrontational ground, telling President Obama that he hoped it would strengthen “stability and security” in the region.  The remarks by Salman suggested no major policy shifts by Saudi Arabia or its Persian Gulf Arab partners. . . 

Iran insists it only wants to produce nuclear fuel for energy-producing reactors and medical applications. Israel and others worry that Iran could one day use the same enrichment process to make warhead-grade material.

Saudi Arabia and the other Sunni Muslim states in the gulf view Shiite-led Iran as their main regional rival. Tensions have further escalated as a Saudi-led coalition carries out airstrikes in Yemen aimed at weakening a Shiite rebel force, which gulf leaders say receives support from Tehran. 

“The gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia, fear the nuclear deal between the United States and Iran is premised on a recognition of rising Persian power in the gulf and the region,” said Fawaz A. Gerges, professor of Middle Eastern politics at the London School of Economics.

Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-born regional affairs lecturer at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel, an academic and research center, predicted a sharp increase in defense spending by the gulf states despite being hit by a sharp drop in oil prices. . . . . they are very likely to challenge Iran’s influence in the region, in places such as Iraq, Yemen, Syria with even more vigor than before, and in a unified manner,” he said.

America has pursued largely the same Middle East policy for 35 years and, if one looks at the state of the Middle East - and the fact that wealthy Saudis have been said to be funding Islamic extremists - it is difficult to say that it has been a success.  Returning Iran to the world economic fold may be the best way to moderate the county's leadership over time and bring the rulers back into line with modernity - something most rank and file Iranians seemingly support.   America's biggest mistake, of course, was not supporting the Shah in 1979 against the religious extremists. 

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