Compounding Interest of Iranian Terror
As Arab Gulf States Hedge Their Bets on Tehran, US Must Maintain Core Principle
By Steve Schippert | January 4, 2008
In the conflict before us, which transcends al-Qaeda and began in earnest decades before September 11, 2001, it is vital that America as a nation maintain both path and positions based upon fundamental core principles rather than an enticement toward pragmatism. Likewise, it is also vital that we seek clarity over consensus when devising, implementing and adjusting strategies in dealing with state and non-state enemies. Nowhere is this approach more critical than in dealing with the Iranian regime. The revolutionary theocratic mullah regime is the world's foremost state sponsor of terrorism and will remain so for as long as it holds the power of governance over the Iranian people and state institutions.
At the Christian Science Monitor, George Washington University professor of political science and international affairs Marc Lynch posits on Why U.S. strategy on Iran is crumbling, noting that the Gulf's Arab states have "moved away from American arguments for isolating Iran," and are now beginning to accommodate the Iranian regime in recognition of its rising power.
"The states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are accommodating themselves to Iran's growing weight in the region's politics," writes Professor Lynch. And they are doing so while Iran is extending a diplomatic hand in equal measure. The Iranians have commenced a diplomatic counter-offensive. Lynch continues by citing a string of overtures by both Tehran and Arab leaders, effectively establishing a very real trend and a shift in regional thinking.
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a regional security cooperative comprised of Sunni Arab Gulf states and emirates, recently invited the group's primary state security threat Shi'a Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to directly address the council. Saudi Arabia invited Ahmadinejad to Mecca for the hajj and King Abdullah then held 'cordial talks' with the Iranian president. Iran and Egypt have been nearing a nuclear technology cooperation deal recently in the first high-level talks between the two states in 27 years. The term "Shia Crescent" describing Iran's regional power ambitions from Tehran to Beirut has effectively dropped from the public lexicon.
And, of course, there is the ongoing schizophrenic effect of the latest NIE that has hamstrung nearly all diplomatic efforts to curb the Iranian nuclear weapons program. Lynch mentions this, and notes that "emerging signs of a tentative thaw in the Gulf are not due solely to the release of the findings in last month's National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that Iran was no longer pursuing a nuclear weapons program." While that is correct, it still remains a primary catalyst that is incredibly difficult to overstate in this context.
In an otherwise very thoughtful commentary by Professor Lynch, his resulting recommendation that because Arab states have commenced to accept an emerging Iranian regional power, "American policymakers need to do the same" is well off the mark.
First, Iran has long been a regional power in the Gulf. The absence of friends and/or cordial relations among the Gulf Cooperation Council Arab states does not translate into an absence of power. What is emerging is not new Iranian power once absent. Rather, emerging is a recognition by regional states of the fact that Iran is a regional power with or without their friendship and that a lack of regional allies will not deter their acquisition of nuclear weapons.
Second, it is not a unique trait of Arab leaders and governments to straddle fences, awaiting a clear winner to cheer. It is not so much a shift occurring among Arab states in the form of a wholesale policy directional change. But rather, it is the customary 'hedging of bets' with an outcome that is increasingly uncertain as the West flounders within its own internal debates. The Iranian nuclear program suffers no such self-imposed domestic impedance. This is an altogether different reality than a wholesale shift in Arab policies and attitudes towards the Shi'a theocratic regime.
From the other direction, Iran has recognized soberly and intelligently the previously ramped-up American strategy of regional isolation for Iran by its Arab Gulf neighbors. It has thus countered with a 'diplomatic offensive' of its own, extending a hand to the same Arab states and leaders America has sought to unify against Iran. To Egypt, Sunni Islam's center of gravity, it offers nuclear cooperation. To Saudi Arabia, home to the most sacred sites in Islam, it offers an absence of animosity in dialog and economic cooperation. And, considering a very real and permanent Iranian geographic proximity along with the West's continued floundering and general ineffectiveness in curbing Iran, its neighbors are simply hedging their bets.
Considering this, it is clear that Arab states have not necessarily "moved away from American arguments for isolating Iran" as definitively as might otherwise be interpreted. Likewise, the accompanying assessment that "American policymakers need to do the same" is off the mark in equal measure.
To the contrary. To change policy and adapt to a misperception of regional Arab actions by "doing the same" and engage Iran in recognition of its "growing weight in the region's politics" is to admit defeat and hand Iran yet another victory. Rather, the United States should redouble its efforts and revisit the means by which it can curb the Iranian threat - to both America and the regional Arab states.
After all, Lynch rightly points out that "America's containment of Iraq began to collapse in the late 1990s when its Arab neighbors lost faith in the value of sanctions." By the same token, it is not unwise to pause for a second and ask if the sanctions themselves that have failed or whether it is more a failure to effectively implement them. Regardless, what is beginning to be demonstrated now by Arab Gulf states - through hedging - is the same lack of faith in the same failed approach, but this time to an even more dangerous actor in Iran.
So why, in a principled decision, would the US choose to adjust its relations with Iran and cede them a major moral and diplomatic victory rather than first attempting to address "the same failed approach" that is causing Arab states under Iranian threat to hedge their bets?
Let's be sure not to lose sight of the very important fact that Iran remains the world's foremost state sponsor of international terrorism. Our energetic opposition to this is founded in core principle, and this core principle must not be sacrificed by the temporary appeal of what might otherwise be termed "pragmatism" or "realism." The Iranian mullah regime will only grow stronger as a result, undeterred in its chosen path.
The net effect, intended or not, is appeasement. And the interest on appeasing state sponsors of terrorism is significant and compounded daily. We - and our children - will only be relegated to paying a far higher and very tangible price tomorrow for an abandonment of principle today.