Vali R. Nasr

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Posters of the former Hamas leader Ahmad Yassin, the former chief of the Iranian Quds Force Qassem Soleimani, Lebanon’s Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah; and the Houthi leader Mahdi al-Mashat in Sanaa, Yemen, January 2024. Khaled Abdullah / Reuters

On January 12, the United Kingdom and the United States launched military strikes on Houthi targets in Yemen. These attacks were a response to the group’s assaults on commercial shipping in the Red Sea, which have disrupted global trade. The Houthis’ actions briefly made them the most prominent members of a military coalition that has become increasingly active across the region following the assassination of Saleh al-Arouri and other Hamas leaders in Beirut on January 2. For following their deaths, Hezbollah’s commander, Hassan Nasrallah vowed retribution and declared that the fight against Israel required nothing less than an “axis of resistance”.…  Seguir leyendo »

The War That Remade the Middle East

Before October 7, 2023, it seemed as if the United States’ vision for the Middle East was finally coming to fruition. Washington had arrived at an implicit understanding with Tehran about its nuclear program, in which the Islamic Republic of Iran effectively paused further development in exchange for limited financial relief. The United States was working on a defense pact with Saudi Arabia, which would in turn lead the kingdom to normalize its relations with Israel. And Washington had announced plans for an ambitious trade corridor connecting India to Europe through the Middle East to offset China’s rising influence in the region.…  Seguir leyendo »

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian and Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan al Saud in Beijing, China, April 6, 2023. Saudi Press Agency / Reuters

It has been exactly five years since former U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran and more than two years since current U.S. President Joe Biden launched his drive to restore it. But despite high hopes, Biden has been unable to resurrect the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or the JCPOA. In part, this is the administration’s failure; in early negotiations, Biden was hesitant to push Congress to back a controversial foreign policy initiative when he needed its support for his domestic agenda. The failure is also a consequence of Iranian obstinacy. As talks dragged on, Tehran threw up roadblocks and made multiple demands—including a guarantee that the next U.S.…  Seguir leyendo »

Saudi Arabian King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud shaking hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, December 2022. Saudi Press Agency / Handout / Reuters

On March 6, 2023, representatives from Iran and Saudi Arabia met in Beijing for discussions brokered by China. Four days later, Riyadh and Tehran announced that they had decided to normalize relations. This landmark agreement has the potential to transform the Middle East by realigning its major powers, replacing the current Arab-Iranian divide with a complex web of relationships, and weaving the region into China’s global ambitions. For Beijing, the announcement was a great leap forward in its rivalry with Washington.

It was not supposed to be this way. It was the United States that had encouraged Iran and Saudi Arabia to start discussions, in 2021, in an effort to reduce tensions between the Gulf rivals, advance nuclear talks, and bring an end to the conflict in Yemen.…  Seguir leyendo »

Iranian clerics hold pictures of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran, January 2023. Majid Asgaripour / West Asia News Agency / Reuters

Over the past five months, a wave of protests has rocked Iran. Young women calling for an end to the compulsory headscarf have been joined by students, laborers, and professionals demanding individual rights, political reform—and even, increasingly, an end to the Islamic Republic itself. These demonstrations posed the most significant threat to Iran’s government since 1979, fueling speculation that today’s theocratic regime could ultimately go the way of yesterday’s monarchy.

For now, the regime has retained the upper hand, thanks to a harsh crackdown by security forces and a lack of leadership and coordination among the protesters. But popular anger is still mounting, and dire economic conditions make further unrest all but inevitable.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Clock Is Ticking for Biden on Iran

Since early April, Iranian officials have been meeting in Vienna with British, Chinese, French, German and Russian counterparts, the remaining members of the 2015 nuclear deal that the United States abandoned in 2018. The United States is participating indirectly, with European diplomats going back and forth between the Iranians and the U.S. diplomats, led by President Biden’s special envoy, Robert Malley.

On Thursday these negotiations resumed, despite the uncertainty caused by Sunday’s sabotage of Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility, which Iran blamed on Israel. Publicly, Israel denied being behind the attack. But American and Israeli intelligence officials have described it as “a classified Israeli operation”, and Tehran has retaliated by increasing its nuclear enrichment levels threefold.…  Seguir leyendo »

A United Nations staff member moving the flags of Iran and the United States after a group photo during the 2015 Iran Nuclear talks. Credit Carlos Barria/Reuters

The momentous protests in Iran this autumn came at a delicate time in a tense standoff between the United States and Iran. Despite the recent prisoner swap, officials in Washington may see the prospects for diplomacy dimming. But that would be wrong. Iranian elections are coming, and without any American agreement to relent on sanctions, the current relatively conciliatory government might well lose all its influence in favor of far more confrontational hard-liners.

That calculus makes this exactly the time to take diplomacy seriously. While the opportunity for success may be slim, failing to reverse rising tensions now risks a serious escalation in frictions that would be more impervious to diplomacy down the road.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Trump administration is not ready to admit it, but its Middle East strategy is in deep trouble, now compounded by the murder of the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Turkey last month. The administration’s recent pressure on the Saudis to seek a truce in their war in Yemen is a clear signal of just how much the credibility of Saudi Arabia, which is at the heart of that strategy, has shrunk, perhaps even in President Trump’s eyes.

The strategy’s goal was to work with the Saudis to contain Iran’s influence in the Middle East. Instead, we can now expect a growing sense of ease in Tehran about exerting its influence, even as it adjusts to the tough economic sanctions that were reimposed last week.…  Seguir leyendo »

Russian military commanders at a briefing in June on the war in Syria. Credit Vadim Savitsky/Russian Armed Forces Press Office, via TASS, via Getty Images

Over the past two months, even as American-trained forces were driving Islamic State insurgents out of the major Iraqi city of Mosul, the war next door in Syria was taking a dangerous but little-remarked turn — one far more favorable for Russia’s ambitions to regain a position of broad influence in the Middle East.

First, a major gaffe by President Trump helped Saudi Arabia split a Sunni Muslim alliance that was supposed to fight against the Islamic State — so much so that Qatar and Turkey moved closer together and became open to cooperation with Iran and Russia. Later, when Mr.…  Seguir leyendo »

The partial cease-fire in Syria’s civil war is welcome news. But it must not be allowed to obscure a dangerous new development — the emergence from the war of a Russian-Iranian military axis that could upset hopes for stability in the Middle East, and for containing Russia’s global ambitions, into the future.

The extent of Russian-Iranian cooperation was signaled last month, when Russia used an Iranian air base to bomb targets in Syria. American officials dismissed the event as unsurprising and tactical, and some Iranian officials said Russia’s access was for a “one-time antiterrorism operation.” But a spokesman for Iran’s foreign ministry attached the words “for now” to his announcement that the access “is finished,” clearly leaving room for repetition.…  Seguir leyendo »

Opponents of the nuclear agreement with Iran see it as a license for Tehran to wreak havoc in the region. Freed from economic pressure and flush with financial resources, the thinking goes, Iran can be expected to unleash its emboldened minions upon Israel and Arab states and undermine U.S. interests. However, contrary to what the critics say, the nuclear deal is far more likely to curb Iran’s regional ambition. It is rather the instability that would follow the failure of the deal that should worry them.

Iran spent $15 billion on its military last year. By comparison, Saudi Arabia spent $80 billion, and the five other states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) spent another $35 billion.…  Seguir leyendo »

Saudi Arabia and its Sunni allies in the Gulf tremble at the prospect of a final nuclear deal with Iran. They fear it will let Iran stir even more trouble than it already is stirring in Yemen, Iraq and Syria. But is that fear misplaced?

Yes. President Obama, who has invited these Arab leaders to meet at Camp David this spring, would do well to use the opportunity to assure them of that.

He should stress that a final nuclear deal is much likelier to make the Arab world more secure for a decade or more, by preventing Iran from getting near a “breakout” — the ability to produce enough bomb-grade material to become a nuclear power.…  Seguir leyendo »

To Leave the Mideast, Unite It

The Obama administration’s quest for a grand strategy for the Middle East is in deep trouble, and the failure to reach a nuclear deal with Iran has only made the problem worse. For the first time since at least the 1970s, success for Western goals in the Middle East depends not on choosing an ally in the rivalry between Shiite Iran and the Sunni Arab states; it rests on damping down that schism altogether, so we can work with both sides against a dangerous threat to all — fanatical Sunni fundamentalism, in the form of the Islamic State.

The Middle East today is deeply unsettled.…  Seguir leyendo »

Like it or not, the calendar of voting — here and in Iran — is driving the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. A first, easy prediction: Don’t expect progress in the few days that remain until America’s Election Day. But then the tempo could ratchet up quickly. And it had better, if we are to expect a nuclear deal at all.

The clock begins ticking on Election Day because Nov. 24 is the target date for a comprehensive agreement. But until the next Congress is chosen on Nov. 4, the Americans can’t make politically risky promises and the Iranians can’t react, not knowing where the balance of power between Republicans and Democrats will lie.…  Seguir leyendo »

America’s tentative return to the battlefields of Iraq, however reminiscent it is of unfinished American business there, is also a deadly reminder that the Arab world is still trying to sort out the unfinished business of the Ottoman Empire, a century after it collapsed.

After World War I, the region’s Arabs were not allowed a proper foundation on which to build stable, functional nations. And in more recent decades, they have been largely unsuccessful in doing so on their own.

Those painful facts are most obvious now in Iraq, where sectarianism has been undoing all of America’s past efforts to forcibly plant a pluralistic democracy in soil made arid by longstanding grievances, inequities, tribal identities and violence.…  Seguir leyendo »

Contrary to what pessimists are saying, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria’s sudden sweep across northern Iraq does not have to end with the Middle East’s borders redrawn. That would be a calamity; the United States should do all it can to avoid it. And we can — if American diplomacy, rather than military intervention, is the main tool.

Yes, America may have to resort to surgical airstrikes to help Iraq check the advance of this extremist group, known as ISIS. But in the end, Iraq can be pulled back fully from the brink only if its quarreling sects agree to share power under a new constitution.…  Seguir leyendo »

Get ready for a new map of global economic power, this one redrawn by American shale gas. It could change the landscape in two ways: reviving hope for American manufacturing, and prompting an American-Russian rivalry over the export of energy to Europe and Asia.

For decades, Americans have watched the cheap cost of factory labor catapult China to wealth and superpower status, and allow economies elsewhere — southern Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe — to climb the ladder of economic development. This has set in motion the largest transfer in global wealth and power since the rise of the West in the 18th century, while the West accustomed itself to growing unemployment, urban blight and rising opposition to globalization itself.…  Seguir leyendo »

Vladimir V. Putin’s aggressive play to bring at least eastern Ukraine inside Moscow’s orbit has unveiled far more than his faith in threats and disinformation. It has opened a window on a dangerous confusion among the four leading power centers of the globe about what constitutes strategic power in 2014.

As Russia defies its adversaries with military threats and fifth-column allies, a war-averse Western Europe clings to its commercial interests, hoping economic carrots can make Mr. Putin reasonable. The United States, long a global policeman but tired of the role, tries to keep Mr. Putin at bay with economic sticks, even as it pivots toward Asia.…  Seguir leyendo »

Until now, fighting the Afghan war has been an American project, and Americans have feared most that their withdrawal will be followed by chaos. That’s why they have focused on handing over the fighting to Afghanistan’s military.

But the first round of the presidential election on April 5 opened a new prospect. Just by turning out in large numbers in defiance of Taliban denunciations, Afghans showed that they craved a stable future — and would need friends in the neighborhood to help broker their differences. That creates an incentive for every nearby country to collaborate on holding Afghanistan together after the Americans leave.…  Seguir leyendo »

However the Ukraine crisis ends, it is now clear that Russia is not the partner America has expected. Both countries have crossed a Rubicon, and there is no going back. So the United States needs a new game plan for managing Russia.
After the Soviet Union collapsed, America was charitable; to compensate the Kremlin for its loss of superpower status, we ignored its foibles and gave it an outsize role on the world stage. When the United States met resistance to plans for its war in Iraq in 2003, Condoleezza Rice counseled: “Punish France, ignore Germany, forgive Russia.”

But after Russia’s grab for Crimea, America is done forgiving.…  Seguir leyendo »