The media is starting to notice the conventional, as opposed to nuclear, threat posed by Iran. In a major profile today, The Wall Street Journal notes that Tehran”now claims an arc of influence that stretches from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden”, including significant commitments to Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon. Furthermore, the Mullahs’ influence is growing, its emissaries (figures like Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Quds force) are becoming more visible, and its control over its proxies is becoming more overt. There’s really only one big hitch left:
These mounting commitments abroad further strain Iran’s economy. In Syria, for example, Iran has spent tens of billions of dollars in loans, weapons and subsidized fuel to prop up the Assad regime, according to Emile Hokayem, an analyst with the International Institute for Security Studies.With Iraq’s finances devastated by falling oil revenues, Iran may now have to step up assistance to Iraq’s weakened Shiite-led government in its fight against Islamic State.“These commitments are vacuuming resources out of the country, while no new wealth is being created at home,” Iranian economist Saeed Laylaz said.
So Iran is more powerful than anytime during the last 30 years and the chief limiting factor is a severe lack of money?How interesting that the Obama Administration is doing everything it can to get a nuclear deal that will flood Iran with cash—without in any way obligating it to restrain its drive for regional domination.As we’ve said before, anti-Iran fundamentalists think any negotiation with Iran is a deal with the devil. We disagree; a smart nuclear deal with Iran can be very good for the United States and its allies—but only if that deal is part of a coherent strategy of limiting Iran’s surging power. That is exactly the opposite of the Obama Administration’s approach, sadly, where a combination of waffling (Syria), blindness (to the danger of “JV” ISIS becoming a major threat) and strategic miscalculation (an over-hasty withdrawal from Iraq) has done much to further the rise of Iran.Again, in its response to Netanyahu, the White House (and a chorus of defenders) is trying to talk about the nuclear deal with Iran as if nothing else were happening—as if the Middle East weren’t in flames and Iran wasn’t running rampant across it. It is rare to see an American administration with so little to say for itself on a vital matter of national security. When was the last time a senior American official sat down with the press to give a wide ranging account of America’s regional strategy and the ways in which our nuclear negotiating stance with Iran complemented a broader agenda? When did the President last seriously engage with critics rather that knocking down straw men?A smarter and more realistic American policy to counter Iran’s regional quest for supremacy would likely have resulted in a more accommodating stance by Iran in the nuclear talks and a power shift from hardliners to moderates (as it is, hardliners can point to huge regional victories to say that the path of “resistance” is working for Iran). It would have made a nuclear deal stronger and more useful. President Obama is right to want a nuclear deal with Iran, but he has refused to pay the price in regional engagement that would make the deal workable. The cost of that refusal—in damaged U.S. relations with longtime allies, in global perceptions about the competence of American foreign policy, in regional security—is horrendous, and continues to rise.