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 »
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 »
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 »
At discussions with world leaders during conferences in Davos, Switzerland, and Munich last month, it became clear to me that the most important challenge facing the United States in the Middle East is managing Saudi Arabia’s reaction to the unexpected breakthrough in nuclear talks with Iran.
The Saudis are angry; they fear that a nuclear deal would free the United States to put the Middle East on the back burner as it switches its full attention to China and the rest of Asia. That would leave Iran, in the absence of economic sanctions, free to expand its sphere of influence.
To be sure, Secretary of State John Kerry argued forcefully, at both the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos and the Munich Security Conference, that America remains fully engaged in the Middle East.… Seguir leyendo »
A bribery and corruption scandal has plunged Turkey into crisis, seriously undermining Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s authority. Mr. Erdogan now faces serious challenges from both secularists suspicious of his Islamist agenda and his erstwhile ally turned rival, the cleric Fethullah Gulen, who leads a powerful Islamic movement from his perch in Pennsylvania. Sluggish economic growth and setbacks in foreign policy have only spurred the critics.
The political bickering is unlikely to let up before next year’s crucial presidential election, in which Mr. Erdogan is expected to run. He will have a difficult time repairing the tarnished image of his Justice and Development Party, or A.K.P.… Seguir leyendo »
Critics have dismissed the Nov. 24 interim accord reached with Iran on its nuclear program as marginal, tenuous and easily reversed. But an enormous amount has changed, especially from Iran’s viewpoint. Essentially, Iran agreed to freeze its enrichment program for six months to allow time for talks on a potential final agreement, while a few sanctions were lifted. Overlooked in the debate over the merits of the deal are the economic dimensions that are surely a factor in Iran’s calculus.
These considerations, more than ideological ones, may well shape the landscape of future bargaining. It would be a colossal error to restore or expand the few sanctions that are being lifted, as some members of the United States Congress are threatening to do.… Seguir leyendo »
The coup last July in Egypt opened a new divide in the Middle East, alienating the Gulf monarchies from the Muslim Brotherhood. This is a momentous change in the region’s strategic landscape that promises to influence governments and regional alliances for years to come.
For six decades, Saudi Arabia and the Muslim Brotherhood were comrades in arms. Theirs was an Islamic alliance, formed in the 1950s to defend against the secular Arab nationalism that Egypt’s leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser, had unleashed. The alliance survived the end of that ideology, and since the 1980s it had defended the Sunni claim to Islamic leadership against the Shiite challenge from Iran.… Seguir leyendo »
The international agreement to destroy Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons has put diplomacy back at center stage of American foreign policy. But enforcing America’s “red line” in Syria is only a prelude to dealing with the thicker, redder line around Iran’s nuclear program. Last week’s charm offensive by Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, and his seeming show of flexibility augurs well for a diplomatic resolution.
But America would be naïve to assume that Iran is negotiating from a position of weakness. To the contrary, Iran has come out of the Arab Spring better positioned than any of its regional rivals, and the turmoil in Syria, its ally, has paradoxically strengthened it further.… Seguir leyendo »
For the past two years the Obama administration has resisted entanglement in Syria, but now this grisly civil war has become an unavoidable international problem and a defining moment for American foreign policy.
Having concluded “with high confidence” that the Syrian government carried out a deadly chemical attack on the outskirts of Damascus on Aug. 21, the Obama administration has no choice but to enforce the “red line” the president laid out a year ago. To maintain American credibility — and his own — President Obama has to do so quickly and decisively. He also has to explain to the American people and to the world what is at stake in Syria and how the United States will lead in ending this crisis.… Seguir leyendo »