Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

Print Print Cite Cite
Style: MLA APA Chicago Close


Our New Ally Iran?

by Elliott Abrams
June 16, 2014


Will the crisis in Iraq lead to a rapprochement with Iran? Will the effort to strike a nuclear deal expand into a broader agreement?

That is the nightmare of many of our allies in the Middle East, including the Gulf Arab states, Jordan, and Israel. My colleague Max Boot in his blog today explains why it is a dangerous idea to think that we have common interests with the world’s largest state sponsor of terror.  At the Commentary Magazine web site, Max has written “Getting Fooled by Iran in Iraq.” Here is an excerpt:

Is it really necessary to point out that letting Iranian forces dominate Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq is a win for Iran–not for the United States?….

Absent a much more active American role to oppose Iranian designs, the mullahs will be able to live out their dreams of regional hegemony at relatively small cost.

Is this actually in America’s interest because Iran as a Shiite nation opposes Sunni extremists? No, because that analysis is far too simplistic….Iran has made common cause in the past with Sunni extremists in Hamas, the Taliban, and al-Qaeda, among others. It’s true that Iran doesn’t want to see ISIS or the Nusra Front, another al-Qaeda-affiliated group, dominate Iraq or Syria. But that’s because it would like to see those states dominated by its own proxies who are every bit as bad….

This is not an outcome remotely in American interests….the increasing Iranian prominence will only drive Sunnis, who constitute the region’s vast majority, into greater militancy. Do you honestly think Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE will stand by and watch Iran and its stalking horses take control of Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon? Not a chance.

While some may take satisfaction from Sunni and Shiite extremists clashing, the problem is that they could both win–i.e., both sides could gain control of significant territory which will then become terrorist states. That is what has already happened in Syria and it is now likely to happen in Iraq as well. While the Iranians would prefer obviously that ISIS not control any territory in Iraq or Syria, they may well be willing to live with some ISIS control if the payoff for them is that their proxies consolidate control over what remains of those two states.

Put bluntly, the U.S. interest is in creating democratic, stable, and pro-Western regimes; the Iranian interest is in creating fundamentalist, terrorist-supporting, Shiite-extremist regimes. There is no overlap of interest except when we make the mistake of backing Iranian-aligned leaders such as Nouri al-Maliki.

There is little to add. The Obama administration has sought a grand rapprochement with Iran, once upon a time called “engagement,” since January 2009. Apparently it still does. But the current path leads only to enhancing Iran’s regional power, and to alienating and endangering our own allies in the region. Iran is an enemy of the United States and of our allies in the Middle East, as its own leaders repeat regularly in speeches (in Farsi; the nice op-eds in English don’t say that). To work with Iran to enlarge its influence in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq will further undermine American influence–and not only in the Middle East. Around the world nations dependent on our willingness to recognize and resist Russian and Chinese efforts at hegemony will also be chilled to see such a policy develop.

It was bad enough to see the President decide on a calendar- (and political calendar-) based timetable for withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, ignoring conditions on the ground. To enlist Iran in efforts now to solve problems to which the total withdrawal from Iraq led demonstrates the inability to learn from past errors–or to admit them, or even to recognize the possibility of error. But all the spin the White House can muster will not change the nature of the unfolding disaster in Syria and Iraq.

Post a Comment 6 Comments

  • Posted by Dean Smallwood

    Iran is playing Obama and Kerry for a couple of suckers … again … which , when one thinks about it , isn’t that difficult .

  • Posted by Dan

    Naïve diplomats think it’s business as usual and fail to see what’s happening before theirs eyes: Obama is shoving our country under a bus, and he’s doing it because it’s been his plan since Day One.

  • Posted by Beatrix

    Once we make Iran powerful, she and ISIS will unite against the weakling West, starting with the militarily drained US. Once we’re tamed, Europe is easy.

    The last time we showed we wouldn’t fight back, we were attacked by Japan. It took 4 years and 50 million deaths to resolve that mistake. And East Europe paid for our mistake for many more years.

  • Posted by Matt

    I like to keep things simple so when you set an ambush, liquidation, operation etc you need 3 counters and each one of those counters need three counters so do the 28th counter measure and there is a 99.5% you will succeed, considering the fact you have become your enemy, to think like your enemy, he does not know 28. Or in your case played by the Iranians on this one. So that is how on a large mission like Iraq or Afghanistan you end up with a whacky Petraeus, McChrystal whiteboard, and one of those whiteboards on a large scale geopolitical/strategic scale is just a small piece of the overall puzzle. All wars or operations are won before the first shot is fired counters, counters, counters. War gaming both sides over and over until there is only one outcome victory. We can predict what the enemy will do and when because we have become the enemy, to think as they think. 28 is the safe options. Go with 28.

  • Posted by EMT

    Dear Mr. Abrams, although Al-Maliki spent some time in Iran, being a Shiite himself, he does not want the Iranians in Iraq. Recently he asked the US for airstrikes in Iraq. In my view, it is not in the US interest to intervene in Iraq in any way at the moment. Even an airstrike requires a lot of preparation. Let’s wait and see the development. I don’t believe that the Iranians can solve anything in Iraq. It is not in our interest to become Iran’s ally. During the last six years we have seen that our administration did not succeed in solving any foreign affairs problem. We should not forget that Al-Maliki wanted ALL the Americans out of Iraq. Now he comes begging. In my view, let the Iranians do what they can. It is their interest to increase their influence in the region. Judging from the situation in Syria, Iran has called in the Hezbollah for help and also counts on Russia’s influence. We can always step in if it would be in our interest. For now it is premature to commit any resources. We know our power; we proved it in WWII against Germany and Japan.

  • Posted by anti inflammatory flea control for dogs natural

    Thanks for finally writing about >Pressure Points

Post a Comment

CFR seeks to foster civil and informed discussion of foreign policy issues. Opinions expressed on CFR blogs are solely those of the author or commenter, not of CFR, which takes no institutional positions. All comments must abide by CFR's guidelines and will be moderated prior to posting.

* Required