The nuclear deal that the United States and five other world powers signed with Iran is a means to an end, not the end in itself. In that regard, the pact, scheduled for formal adoption on Oct. 19, necessarily rates as a high-risk proposition. If the agreement succeeds, it may mark a first step toward restoring some semblance of stability to the Greater Middle East, thereby allowing the US to lower its profile there. If it fails, the current disorder may in retrospect seem tame.
I try to think positive.
US military involvement in the Greater Middle East, dating as far back as the abortive peacekeeping mission in Lebanon during the early 1980s, has been counterproductive. Whether in Iraq or Libya, Somalia or Afghanistan, it has never produced the results promised or expected.
Obama’s acceptance of the risks inherent in the JCPOA constitutes a de facto admission that the attempt to impose order on this region through the application of hard power has failed. Period. Full stop.
Simply trying harder – more bombs or more boots on the ground – won’t produce a more favorable outcome. In effect, the verdict is in: The militarization of US policy in the Islamic world has reached a dead end.
There are certain tasks that exceed the capabilities of even the world’s sole superpower and that should therefore be left to others. Managing the Greater Middle East is one of those things.
Prominent among those “others” who share an interest in preventing further regional disintegration are Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, and Iraq (if it ever manages to get its act together). While the regimes controlling these several nations disagree about many things, they are all fundamentally committed to the status quo. That is, unlike Islamic State, Al Qaeda, or any of their offshoots, they are committed to preserving rather than destroying the existing system of nation-states within (more or less) their existing borders.
Obama is betting that Iran also qualifies as a status quo nation – or, if it is not presently, that it can be coaxed into becoming one. The impetus behind the bet is quite clear. Only by restoring Iran to its rightful place among regional heavyweights – as a player, not simply as a spoiler – will it be possible for a stable equilibrium of power to emerge.
In other words, making lemonade out the big pile of rotten lemons left by his predecessor.