In a post about the Saudi Arabia/Iran crisis — the Saudi beheading of a Shiite cleric; the Iranian burning of the Saudi embassy — John asked, “the Middle East couldn’t possibly get worse, could it?” At NR’s Corner, David French examines the crisis and concludes “in the Middle East things can always get worse.”
Things have indeed gotten worse under President Obama. They got worse when Obama withdrew from Iraq and they are getting even worse following his nuclear deal with Iran, an abject capitulation by the U.S.
For months, the Saudis have watched with alarm as the Iranians have engaged in the Mideast equivalent of an extended touchdown dance following the conclusion of the so-called nuclear “deal” with the U.S. The Saudis’ chief regional enemy is set to receive a massive economic infusion, access to international arms markets, and permission to further develop its ballistic missile capabilities.
The Iranians have celebrated by reaffirming their support for Shiite terrorists, conducting missile tests in defiance of the U.N., and — most recently — firing a rocket within two kilometers of an American aircraft carrier. In the meantime, the emerging Iran/Iraq/Sryia alliance received a considerable boost in the form of direct Russian intervention on behalf of the Assad regime.
While the U.S. has been largely impotent, the Saudis have responded by forming a multinational alliance to counter Iran (under the laughable pretense of “fighting terror”) and launching an intense air and ground campaign against Iranian-backed Shiite rebels in Yemen. Saudi Arabia’s execution of Shiite Sheikh Nimr Baqr al-Nimr is an act of pure defiance. Iran’s response — permitting a “mob” to burn the Saudi embassy — demonstrated its own lack of regard for the House of Saud.
What’s the lesson?
Nothing is easy or simple in the Middle East, but we can be certain of two things: Power vacuums will always be filled, and things can always get worse.
American passivity has left an enormous power vacuum in the region, and the Iranians and Saudis are rushing to fill the void. The Iranians are our sworn enemies, and the Saudis are among the worst of “friends.” It’s hard to see how the continued aggressive emergence of either regional power advances American national interests, and a direct clash could have dramatic consequences for the world economy.
The Middle East has long been on fire with violence and instability. This weekend, the fire blazed hotter still.
Walter Russell Mead expands on the connection between Obama’s Iran deal and the Saudi/Iran crisis:
The. . .story on Saudi Arabia’s decision to break diplomatic relations with Iran over the destruction of the Saudi embassy in Tehran, read[s] like an epitaph for the Obama administration’s Middle East policy. In 2015, the central conviction of President Obama’s policy in the Middle East, the only element of his original, ambitious agenda (reconciliation with the Sunni world, promotion of moderate Islamist democracy, solving the Israel-Palestine issue) still standing, was that he could stabilize the Middle East by pursuing a nuclear deal with Iran.
The President has his nuclear deal, but so far it isn’t making him, or anybody else, happy. The perceived U.S. tilt toward Iran has inflamed Sunni jihadis, contributed to the meltdown in Syria, and has made regional sectarian conflict hotter and more dangerous than ever. What’s more, the U.S. has lost leverage over Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, and Israel—without gaining leverage over Iran.
As a result, the U.S. is both less able to persuade the Sunni powers to refrain from steps that could inflame regional conflict and is completely unable to persuade the Iranians to moderate their behavior in the interest of regional peace.
Like John, I find it difficult to reconcile Obama’s policies with a good faith intention to pursue peace in the Middle East or to advance the national security interests of the United States.