USA has remained skeptical about Iran’s nuclear ambitions despite entering in to Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which is indicative of its deliberately kept obscure policy towards Iran. Ostensible reason for such mistrust may be American proclivity for non proliferation though; yet, the real root cause is considered to be Iran’s clear hostility towards American pet ally in the region i.e. Israel. Therefore, in announcing the United States’ backing out from the Iran nuclear agreement, U.S. President Donald Trump made clear his disapproval of the accord and outlined a laundry list of objections about Iranian policies. According to some analysts, U.S. concerns about Iran’s nuclear endeavors are rooted not just in a principled stand against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction but in deep unease about the Iranian regime’s broader actions and intentions. And it is easy now to forget that prior to the conclusion of the nuclear deal (also known as JCPOA), most of the U.S. allies in the Middle East other than Israel were also more concerned about Iran’s regional policies than its nuclear pursuits. Some of the critics opine that while the United States had remained obsessed with the JCPOA, Iran had extended its physical sphere of influence in Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere without much confrontation. Besides, as a result of historic differences duly exploited by external actors, has resulted in clear ethnic division in the Middle East between Iran led Shia and Saudi led Sunni blocks; consequently, prospects for war between Iran and Saudi Arabia or between Iran and Israel, have increased significantly.
It is also an established reality that successive US presidents have employed some combination of good cop and bad cop and engagement and pressure, with Iran, including all possible techniques of “Economic Hit man”, but none seriously adopted the policy of rapprochement. Nevertheless Obama’s offshore rebalancing policy came to manifestation in full swing as Trump coincided his disdain for American troops’ engagement abroad by pushing the Saudi led coalition to confront Iran’s overtures in the region with America leading from the rear with Arab state pumping in massive money in to US defence industry for buying weapons and equipment that they would perhaps never use much. Even as the United States under Trump has threatened the return of harsh sanctions against Iran and those who do business with it, it has not taken substantial new steps in the past 18 months to counter Iran’s regional ambitions. Indeed, U.S. Central Command chief General Joseph Votel told Congress that he had no orders to counter Iran in Syria.
On the other hand, Western think tanks opine that the disorder has also been suitable for Iran’s long-standing national security strategy, which has long focused on cultivating proxies within states and using asymmetric tactics to keep adversaries preoccupied and off balance. In Syria, Iran has found a ready partner in Russian President Vladimir Putin, himself looking to expand Moscow’s influence and capitalize on U.S. hesitancy. The result is an Iran that has expanded its regional power even as it has reportedly complied with the JCPOA.
The challenges faced by the United States in recent years has been to square its own reluctance to increase its involvement in the Middle East with the desire to confront an increasingly aggressive Iran. This is not simply a political or ideological imperative, as U.S. allies in Europe and Asia sometimes suspect, but one rooted in national interests. In the American view, Iran’s actions threaten not only the stability of the Middle East, such as it is, but freedom of commerce and navigation in the region’s waterways and the security of U.S. allies. The overall impact of developments in the conflict zones in the region besides rejection of JCPOA by America despite other signatories opposing such a step need to be seen in the light of envisaged attainment of strategic objectives through US’ Asia-Pacific Rebalancing policy and by renaming of US Command as Indo-Pacific instead of just Pacific command.
Therefore, USA appears to be killing too many birds with one stone and there surely is a plan in the visible instability and disorder spread in the Central Asia, South Asia and Middle East region from Afghanistan to Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Syria, which has enforced regional strategic realignments involving Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, CARs, India, all ME and Gulf countries. As if North Korea’s nuclear issue wasn’t enough to disturb strategic balance in the region, rejection of JCPOA and pursuance of more hawkish approach is bound to rock the boat beyond recovery. Consequently, a new phase of Cold War is unfolding, this time with three major competitor instead of two; however, the conflicts caused this time are far more devastating and fraught with greater perils than were witnessed from 1945 to 1990 due to advancement in technologies and availability of nuclear capability/ deterrence to more actors involved in the confrontations, giving shudders to thinking minds.
To avoid catastrophic outcome of the game being played, US may have to cool headedly reconsider its role in the region based on deep cost benefit analyses, but with focus on finding peaceful resolution of the triggered conflicts including fixing JCPOA rather than dumping it altogether. For that US need to listen to all signatories of JCPOA and other regional and international stakeholders with open mind. If POTUS Trump has to make America great again and abandon US forces’ commitments abroad, he has to find middle grounds on all the conflicts in the region including stalemate in Afghanistan, standoff on North Korea and Iran’s nuclear programme. However, he will also have to then take the front seat in resolving global issues as a leader irrespective of the economic cost involved, rather than following a backbencher’s approach.
Saleem Qamar Butt, SI (M) is a senior retired Army officer with rich experience in Military & Intelligence Diplomacy, Strategic Analyses and Forecast.(firstname.lastname@example.org)