Why did President Bush go to Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian territories, the Saudi Kingdom, Kuwait, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates beginning of this year? The visit seems to have been born entirely out of a policy guide which sees Iran’s containment as the primary objective of its Middle East policy.
The administration wants to contain Iran by rallying the support of Sunni Arab states, imitating pretty much its predecessors: “a way to stabilize Iraq, declaw Hezbollah, and restart the Arab-Israeli peace process. But the strategy is unsound and impractical, and it will probably further destabilize an already volatile region,” wrote Vali Nasr and Ray Takeyh in Foreign Affairs.
In pushing for containing Iran, the administration is choosing a high-risk, high-reward strategy. The risk the administration is taking, of course, is absurd, especially in the light of what is expected from Washington’s containment strategy: Staying away from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which is a potato issue in the big picture, and focusing on “the more pressing Persian menace,” Nasr and Takeyh.
One doesn’t need to know a thing or two about this volatile region to realize that these excessively optimistic expectations from those thankless Arab powers will only set the stage for the eruption of the volcano.
While there is plenty of evidence that most Arab powers are privately in favor of military action to stop the menace of the Persian power next door, there is little sign that these autocratic rulers would do anything meaningful to balance the power of Persian, starting with the implementation of their own long overdue political and cultural reforms.
Fouad Ajami, a highly learned scholar of the Middle East, explains this point by saying that “If their [the Sunnis’] world is now a battleground between Pax Americana and Iran, that is a stark statement on their weakness, and on the defects of the social contract between the Sunnis and the Shiites of the Arab world. America can provide the order that underpins the security of the Arabs, but there are questions of political and cultural reform which are tasks for the Arabs themselves.”
The United States would do better to abandon its containment strategy toward Iran and embark on a policy of unconditional dialogue and sanctions relief. They are talking a great deal about each other, when they should be devoting far more attention to talking to each other.
It is important to appreciate that Iran has a literate, youthful population that is well-integrated into global culture and, more importantly, is above the anti-American anger that dominates the Arab street.
Iran’s engagement will ultimately make the Middle East safe for America, not containment or military action advocated privately by many in the governments of Saudi Arabia and UAE, who have assured Max Boot that “the consequences of such raids, which would probably include Iranian-backed terrorism, would be manageable.”
It would be manageable as long as one believes in “Perpetual war.”