Washington’s change of tack will help bridle Tehran’s hegemonic ambitions in the region
By Abdullah Al Shayji
Gulf News، October 30, 2017 - For those of us who have suffered and warned of the Obama administration doctrine, which has allowed Iran to roam freely in our midst and interfere unimpeded in our domestic affairs from the GCC states to the Mediterranean and brag about controlling four Arab capitals under Obama’s watch, the newly declared Trump administration strategy announced in the middle of last month, decertifying Iran’s nuclear agreement, sanctioning Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and doubling down on Iran’s mischief, rogue state behaviour and ballistic missiles testing, was music to the ears.
What was refreshing for us in the GCC states to hear was US President Donald Trump’s new approach of not limiting the terrorist groups to the Sunni extremist groups, which the US administration focused on, but expanding the focus to include Iran and its supported and funded Shiites groups, as a long-term threat.
The Washington Post in a recent article titled, The US is on collision course with Iran in the Middle East, said: “The launch of the [Trump] strategy signalled an important shift in US Middle East policy away from an almost exclusive focus on fighting Daesh [the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] to an effort that also pushes back against years of Iranian expansion in the region. But the strategy offers no specifics for how to confront Iran’s pervasive presence on the ground in Iraq, Syria and beyond, raising questions about how easy it will be to push back against Iranian influence without triggering new conflicts…”
Even US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Baghdad called for Iraqi-backed Iranian militias to go home. That represents a major shift in the US position which coordinated with the Iran-supported Popular Mobilisation Forces in the fight against Daesh. This US change of heart, annoyed Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi. Qais Al Khazali, one of the Popular Mobilisation Forces leaders, even went further, insisting the “US should go home.”
In a blistering speech laying out his new strategy, Trump insisted “The Iranian regime continues to fuel conflict, terror, and turmoil throughout the Middle East and beyond. Importantly, Iran is not living up to the spirit of the [Iranian nuclear deal].” Although Trump did not walk out of the Iran nuclear deal, he nevertheless decertified it and left it to Congress to deal with it.
Trump kept repeating, even as a candidate, the Iran deal was “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the US has ever entered into.” Moreover, Trump in announcing his new strategy vis-a-vis-Iran threatened to act “with the US’ allies to counter the regime destabilising activities… And vowed that “the agreement will be terminated,” if the Congress fails to act on the nuclear agreement.
As Trump has a laundry list of US’ grievances against Iran: “Its support for militant groups like Hezbollah, alarm over its testing of ballistic missiles, and fundamental mistrust of its repressive, theocratic leadership… This regime has fuelled sectarian violence in Iraq, and vicious civil wars in Yemen and Syria. In Syria, the Iranian regime has supported the atrocities of Bashar Al Assad’s regime and condoned Al Assad’s use of chemical weapons against helpless civilians, including many, many children. Those are all fair hits: Iran really is destabilizing the Middle East in a whole host of ways….”
Trump kept referring through his speech to the regime, and not Iran... “The regime remains the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, and provides assistance to Al Qaida, the Taliban, Hezbollah, and other terrorist networks. It develops, deploys, and proliferates missiles that threaten American troops and our allies. It harasses American ships and threatens freedom of navigation in the Arabian Gulf (it drove Iran nuts) and in the Red Sea. It imprisons Americans on false charges. And it launches cyberattacks against our critical infrastructure, financial system, and military. Trump accused the “regime of harbouring high-level terrorists in the wake of the September 11 attacks, including Osama Bin Laden’s son. In Iraq and Afghanistan, groups supported by Iran have killed hundreds of American military personnel…” These accusations have not been levelled against Iran by any US president.
Trump, never mentioned Iran as “government of Iran”, but referred in one of the harshest speeches by a US president, as a dictatorship, fanatical, and rogue regime.
“Trump’s new strategy looks bold and tough on Iran, and is a refreshing departure from Obama’s destructive appeasement.”
-Abdullah Al Shayji
Although, Trump strategy insisted as he described it “The regime remains the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, and provides assistance to Al Qaida, the Taliban, Hezbollah, Hamas and other terrorist networks.” He even went as far as accusing Iran of colluding with North Korea: “There are also many people who believe that Iran is dealing with North Korea.” Trump rebuked Iran’s rogue behaviour, announced a tougher stance against Iran, upped the ante and ended Obama appeasement policy and threatened to impose new sanctions against Iran, which the US Congress enthusiastically embraced, and did not waste any time to pass legislation slapping sanctions against Iran and its proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Iran President Hassan Rouhani in a rebuttal speech accused Trump of delivering insults and baseless accusations in his speech and claimed “the US is more isolated than ever, and could not unilaterally change the deal.”
Trump’s new strategy looks bold and tough on Iran, and is a refreshing departure from Obama’s destructive appeasement, which subordinated and tolerated Iran’s meddling and destabilizing activities to reach the nuclear agreement at any cost to serve his legacy, it gave Iran by design or inadvertently a green light to advance its project and emboldened Iran to stage a major offensive to be the hegemon of the region, empowering its proxies and allies, supporting the brutal and thuggish regime of Bashar Al Assad in Syria, and undermining the US allies in the GCC states.
But it does seem the Iranian intervention that upset the stability and security of the region pushed Obama to rethink his flawed strategy.
The hardline approach by Trump will be a major victory if it succeeds in deterring Iran, arrests its malignant interventions, forces its allies to change its destabilizing behaviour and shenanigans and act more like a normal state, rather than a permanent revolutionary regime, bent on exporting its brand of revolutionary zeal, sectarian militias and hegemonic behaviour.
Professor Abdullah Al Shayji is a professor of Political Science and the former chairman of the Political Science Department, Kuwait University.