Doug Bandow / Forbes – 2015-04-21 00:32:41
(April 13, 2015) — The Obama administration’s decision to negotiate with Tehran triggered near hysteria among US politicians and pundits who advocate perpetual war in the Middle East. One complaint is that the talks were not broad enough. They did not address Iran’s malign intervention throughout the Middle East.
These critics denounced Tehran’s imperial ambitions. For instance, the ever-hawkish Foreign Policy Initiative insisted that “Iran’s drive to dominate the region has been years in the making.” The group warned of Sana’a becoming “the fourth Arab capital to fall under the sway of Tehran.” The Economist put it slightly differently, pointing to Iran’s “strong influence over Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad and Sana’a.”
However, if regional domination is a long-term priority, it is striking how little Tehran has accomplished. Most governments in the region dislike and oppose the Islamic regime. Nor is Iran much of a dominatrix, especially compared to America with its strong influence throughout the entire Persian Gulf and North Africa and in Iraq and Jordan; Saudi Arabia’s equally significant role in the Gulf and Egypt and among Syrian rebels; and Israel’s overwhelming regional military strength.
Tehran’s principal client is war-torn Syria, where the Assad regime’s, and thus Iran’s, reach barely extends to the Damascus suburbs. Tehran enjoys outsize but not overwhelming influence in small, divided Lebanon, where Hezbollah listens to but is not controlled by Iran (and does nothing to threaten America). In Yemen Tehran is loosely connected to a long-time disaffected rebel movement in what amounts to a permanent civil war.
Iran matters in Baghdad not because of calculated policy but cultural connection, facilitated by George W. Bush, who removed the secular Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, Iran’s great nemesis. FPI complained that “Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Tehran has worked relentlessly to turn Iraq into a client state led by Shiite militants,” but the US occupied Iraq from 2003 until 2011 and worked equally hard, though less successfully, to turn that nation into an American client hosting military bases for use against Iran.
The Economist denounced Tehran for sponsoring militias in Iraq — which have battled the Islamic State at Baghdad’s request. Iraq’s relationship with Iran is one of the heart; the ties with Washington were and always will be ones of convenience.
Yet the Economist magazine warned that “Iran’s belligerent behavior in the Middle East is an increasing menace.” Even without nukes, argued consultant Michael McBride, “Iran will continue to pose the greatest threat to our interests, allies, and influence in the region.” Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal complained of “the nature of action and hegemonistic tendencies that Iran has taken in the region.”
More specifically, wrote columnist Jonah Goldberg: “A civilized Iranian regime would presumably stop supporting Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Houthis in Yemen, Bashar Assad in Syria and Shiite militants in Iraq.”
But none of these activities have yielded much geopolitical benefit. Anyway, Iran is a populous and potentially prosperous nation that cannot be expected to supinely accept US or Saudi domination.
Perhaps Tehran should ask in return that more humane US and Saudi Arabia governments stop backing multiple allies, friends, and proxies, including flagrant authoritarians and extremists, and warring against various enemies and adversaries, including indigenous democracy and independence movements. Who is dominating whom?
Doug Bandow writes about domestic and international policy.
Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.
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