FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Engagement Critics

One of the predictable outcomes of any US effort to reset relations with an adversary is that allies start whining about their vulnerability and demanding some sort of compensation for it. Thus, no sooner was the nuclear deal with Iran concluded than the Israelis, Saudis, and other Middle East partners criticize it as representing abandonment and emboldening Iran to become a stronger meddler in neighbors’ affairs. All sorts of dire predictions about horrendous consequences are already on record, clearly intended to influence the Obama administration to give these folks something for their pain—like money, arms (both of which they get in abundance), and especially new commitments.

When such demands are made, moreover, US allies know full well that they can count on support from hawks in Congress and think tanks who have been issuing warnings for many months about the nuclear deal. These are people who feast on threats. Now they are in full throttle, talking as though engaging Iran amounts to something just short of treason.  The Middle East will come tumbling down: Iran’s Shiia allies will make trouble in the Occupied Territories, Yemen, and elsewhere; Syria will go down the drain; new turmoil will mark Iraq and Afghanistan.  And of course in the end, the predictions insist, Iran will develop nuclear weapons, compelling an Israeli response.

The burden will be on Obama to resist these pressures.  He knew from the outset of negotiations with Iran that reaching an agreement that had the ayatollah’s blessing was only half the battle, that the other half was at home and with Iran’s enemies in the Middle East.  One well informed analyst with the Brookings Institution in Washington argues that the Saudis and their friends will be especially insistent that the US “demonstrate its readiness to push back against Iran’s expansionism around the region. And the primary arena in which the Arab states wish to see that from the United States is in Syria.” But as this analyst goes on to say, Syria “is the one [place] where the current US president is least likely to undertake any more assertive action to counter Iran.” Let’s hope she’s right.

Critics of engaging Iran, and even supporters such as the analyst just quoted, make the common and dangerous error of putting their entire focus on Iran’s capacity for troublemaking. This, despite all the evidence that Israel and Saudi Arabia, among other US partners, are also guilty of troublemaking—and that Israel has never been pushed to open to inspection, much less reduce, its nuclear arsenal.  Nor have the Sunni Arab partners, all autocracies, been pressed by the US to reform their political systems so as to be able to accommodate the many sources of inequity, which the Arab Spring evidently did not accomplish.  Haven’t they ever heard of burden sharing?  Failing to confront these realities leaves the US precisely where it is now: having to prove its “resolve” and its “leadership” by deepening its already steep, multi-front military involvement in the Middle East.

The administration should use the nuclear agreement as the opening wedge in a broader policy shift that seeks normalization of relations with Iran.  Let Netanyahu and the Saudi princes rant; the US aim should be peace, security, and social justice for the peoples of the region, not satisfaction of other states’ destructive ambitions.

More articles by:

Mel Gurtov is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University, Editor-in-Chief of Asian Perspective, an international affairs quarterly and blogs at In the Human Interest.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
July 24, 2019
Marc Levy
 A Discomforting Letter From a Comfortable Town
Kenneth Surin
The UK Media’s Spurious Campaign Against Labour “Antisemitism”
David Mattson
Felicia’s Fate: The Trials of a Grizzly Bear Mom
Lawrence Davidson
Democratic Party Dilemmas
Helena Norberg-Hodge
Local is Our Future
Binoy Kampmark
WikiLeaks, Julian Assange and Decoding the National Security Commentariat
Michael Doliner
Russiagate: the Cherry on Top
Jonah Raskin
A Whale of a Time on the California Coast
Nozomi Hayase
In Crisis of Democracy, We Must All Become Julian Assange
J.P. Linstroth
Why Indigenous Lives Should Matter
Elliot Sperber
The Parable of the Flax Seed 
July 23, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
Why Boris Johnson is Even More Dangerous Than Trump
Christopher Ketcham
The American West as Judeo-Christian Artifact
Jack Heyman
Whitewashing American History: the WPA Mural Controversy in San Francisco
David Mattson
Through the Climate Looking Glass into Grizzly Wonderland
David Macaray
Paul Krassner and Me
Thomas Knapp
Peckerwood Populism is About Political Strategy, Not Personal Belief
John Kendall Hawkins
Assange and His Wiki Wicked leaks
Howard Lisnoff
What Has Happened to the U.S. Since the Kids Left Woodstock?
Victor Grossman
“How Could They?” Why Some Americans Were Drawn to the Communist Party in the 1940s
Gary Leupp
Minnesota, White People, Lutherans and Ilhan Omar
Binoy Kampmark
Lunar Narratives: Landing on the Moon, Politics and the Cold War
Richard Ward
Free La Donalda!
July 22, 2019
Michael Hudson
U.S. Economic Warfare and Likely Foreign Defenses
Evaggelos Vallianatos
If Japan Continues Slaughtering Whales, Boycott the 2020 Tokyo Olympics
Mike Garrity
Emergency Alert For the Wild Rockies
Dean Baker
The U.S.-China Trade War: Will Workers Lose?
Jonah Raskin
Paul Krassner, 1932-2019: American Satirist 
David Swanson
U.S. Troops Back in Saudi Arabia: What Could Go Wrong?
Robert Fisk
American Visitors to the Gestapo Museum Draw Their Own Conclusions
John Feffer
Trump’s Send-Them-Back Doctrine
Kenn Orphan – Phil Rockstroh
Landscape of Anguish and Palliatives: Predation, Addiction and LOL Emoticons in the Age of Late Stage Capitalism
Karl Grossman
A Farmworkers Bill of Rights
Gary Leupp
Omar and Trump
Robert Koehler
Fighting Climate Change Means Ending War
Susie Day
Mexicans Invade US, Trump Forced to Go Without Toothbrush
Elliot Sperber
Hey Diddle Diddle, Like Nero We Fiddle
Weekend Edition
July 19, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Rob Urie
The Blob Fought the Squad, and the Squad Won
Miguel A. Cruz-Díaz
It Was Never Just About the Chat: Ruminations on a Puerto Rican Revolution.
Anthony DiMaggio
System Capture 2020: The Role of the Upper-Class in Shaping Democratic Primary Politics
Andrew Levine
South Carolina Speaks for Whom?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Big Man, Pig Man
Bruce E. Levine
The Groundbreaking Public Health Study That Should Change U.S. Society—But Won’t
Evaggelos Vallianatos
How the Trump Administration is Eviscerating the Federal Government
Pete Dolack
All Seemed Possible When the Sandinistas Took Power 40 years Ago
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail