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The mirage of strategic equilibrium

Jun 02,2014 - Last updated at Jun 02,2014

The United States — under both George Bush and Barack Obama — has been following an ineffective foreign policy in the Middle East.

The decline in the American influence in the region could not be more obvious.

Over the last several years, Iran has benefited from the US’ countless mistakes. By design or default, the way the US dealt with the transition in the post-Saddam Iraq only boosted Iran’s influence in Iraq and paved the way for the current sectarian strife. In fact, sectarianism — thanks to the ill-advised American policies — is ubiquitous in the region.

The American inaction in Syria — even when Bashar Assad used chemical weapons, thus crossing Obama’s red lines — only made Iran and Hizbollah more active in their fight against the Syrian revolution.

The American policy vis-à-vis the Syrian opposition was disappointing. Actually, it would have been unthinkable for Assad to hold elections if the America had acted differently.

Not long ago, Obama articulated a new approach to the Middle East, designed to create a new equilibrium in the region. 

Rather than isolating Iran for all of its negative impact in the region, the American administration seeks to turn Iran into an anchor of stability. 

It is true that Iran is an important regional power, but it has been driven by a regional agenda that would subvert stability in the medium run.

Undoubtedly, Iran with nuclear capabilities could be more emboldened to follow a policy that would undermine regional stability.

It remains to be seen whether Obama will succeed in creating a framework where Iran and other Gulf countries can cooperate for the sake of stability.

A new report published by Carnegie examines this possibility. It argues that on nearly every single major issue in the Middle East, Tehran and other regional powers appear to be on opposing sides, confounding American’s effort to bring stability.

Iran has a regional blueprint that can only aggravate an already opposing neighbourhood.

The Sunni Arab regimes are apprehensive of Iran’s ulterior objective in the region. Despite announcement to the contrary, Tehran has tried to manipulate the sectarian identity to undermine stability in the Gulf. 

Until Iran changes its policy in a radical way, the region is poised to witness rivalry and sectarian confrontations.

Perhaps, the US has its own reasons to disengage from the region. Washington is seeking to shift its resources to the Pacific areas, to balance rising powers there. 

And yet, a new equilibrium in the Gulf and the Levant will soon prove to be another serious American miscalculation.

The mistrust between the Arabs and Iran is difficult to address in the short run. For Iran to be a constructive actor in the region, it should take into account that the Arab regimes are apprehensive of Tehran’s policies in Lebanon, Yemen, Syria and Iraq.

It is true that sectarian tensions are running high in these countries, but it is also true that Iran could have helped de-escalate this destructive tension had it followed a reasonable foreign policy.

A new equilibrium in the Gulf and the Levant can only materialise if Iran changes course.

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