How and why has the United States arrived at this strategy?
Trump and the White House detailed the rationale behind the new policy by citing well-known facts about Iran’s conduct that had been underestimated or totally ignored by the group of P5+1 in their eagerness to conclude the nuclear deal.
As the new strategy made clear, Iran has pursued a steady policy of undermining the international system and many states by force and subversion. It exports violence, destabilizes its neighbors, and sponsors terrorism abroad. Within Iran, the Iranian government has oppressed its people, abused their rights, restricted their access to the internet and the outside world, rigged elections, shot student protesters in the street, and imprisoned political reformers.
In his policy statement last week, Trump said the reckless conduct of the Iranian regime, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in particular, poses one of the most dangerous threats to US interests and to regional stability.
The Iranian regime has taken advantage of regional conflicts and instability to aggressively expand its regional influence. The full range of the regime’s malign activities extends well beyond the nuclear threat it poses, including ballistic missile development and proliferation; material and financial support for terrorism and extremism; support for the Assad regime’s atrocities against the Syrian people; threatening freedom of navigation; cyber-attacks against the US and its allies and partners; and grievous human rights abuses.
The Trump administration criticized the Obama administration’s “myopic focus on Iran’s nuclear program to the exclusion of the regime’s many other malign activities,” which “allowed Iran’s influence in the region to reach a high-water mark.” It is also critical of US policy over the last decade and a half, which “consistently prioritized the immediate threat of Sunni extremist organizations over the longer-term threat of Iranian-backed militancy.” In doing so, “the United States has neglected Iran’s steady expansion of proxy forces and terrorist networks aimed at keeping its neighbors weak and unstable in hopes of dominating the greater Middle East.”
Donald Trump’s tough new strategy will require partners, and there is no shortage of volunteers.
Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg
Recently, “the Iranian regime has accelerated the seeding of these networks with increasingly destructive weapons as they try to establish a bridge from Iran to Lebanon and Syria.”
The Trump administration vowed that it “will not repeat these mistakes.” Instead, it will “address the totality of these threats from and malign activities by the government of Iran and will seek to bring about a change in the Iranian’s regime’s behavior.”
On the nuclear deal itself, Iran has frequently attempted to circumvent its restrictions and has denied access to its military installations to verify its compliance. The verification regime and “sunset” clauses in the deal certainly need to be revised to ensure compliance and continuity of restrictions on Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile activities.
The core of Trump’s new Iran strategy is to decertify Iranian compliance with the nuclear deal, leaving it up to the Congress whether to re-impose nuclear-related sanctions, and to neutralize Iran’s destabilizing influence and constrain its aggression, particularly its support for terrorism and foreign militias.
The aim is also to revitalize US traditional alliances and regional partnerships to counter Iran’s subversion and restore a more stable balance of power in the region; deny the Iranian regime, especially the IRGC, funding for its malign activities, and oppose IRGC activities that extort the wealth of the Iranian people; counter threats to the US and its allies from ballistic missiles and other asymmetric weapons; and deny the Iranian regime all paths to a nuclear weapon.
The practical steps for implementing the new strategy have been under discussion between the US and its GCC allies for some time. The announcement last week made it clear that the US intends to move forward on implementing it, in concert with its allies and partners in the region. More on those steps later.
While Trump’s new strategy and Emmanuel Macron’s new plan, which we discussed in this space last week, may disagree on aspects of the nuclear deal, they agree on the need to counter Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region, its ballistic missile program, and its support for terrorism. Will they work together, and with GCC allies, to implement those common elements of their strategies?
• Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg is a columnist for Arab News. Twitter: @abuhamad1