On First Anniversary of Iran Nuclear Deal, American Credibility in Middle East Destroyed, Says Former US Ambassador to Iraq, Turkey
by Lea Speyer
America’s credibility in the Middle East has been destroyed since the signing of the Iran nuclear deal a year ago, a former US ambassador to Iraq and Turkey asserted on Tuesday.
In his analysis, titled, “The JCPOA’s Regional Impact: Sinking Confidence in the U.S. Balancing Role,” James F. Jeffrey — the Philip Solondz Distinguished Fellow at the DC-based think tank the Washington Institute for Near East Policy — wrote that the nuclear deal has emboldened Tehran and “even enabled Iran’s hegemonic quest.” As a result, he claimed, regional powers — such as Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Turkey and Israel — now perceive US leadership as “weak,” posing heightened risks of “descent into greater chaos.”
Middle Eastern powers initially welcomed the nuclear agreement, Jeffrey wrote, but many did so with reservations. Arab populations were split in their support, worrying about “the agreement’s potential to facilitate Iranian mischief-making.”
Ahead of next week’s one-year anniversary of the JCPOA — signed on July 14, 2015 — and “with the wind in Iran’s sails conjured by the deal,” the US’s ability to challenge the Islamic Republic has become almost nonexistent, Jeffrey maintained, adding:
First, the deal has given Iran the means to expand its regional heft through diplomacy, money, surrogates, and violence, namely by allowing the regime to profit from the release of many tens of billions of dollars of previously blocked oil earnings and renewed oil exports, to leave the negotiating table flush with arguable “victories” (i.e., maintaining the right to enrich uranium and avoiding a confession about its weaponization program), and to become newly attractive as a global trading partner.
Second, the Obama administration, bereft of diplomatic successes elsewhere, has become so indebted to Iran for the agreement that it has avoided challenging Iran and, worse, seems to view the agreement as a transformative moment with Tehran, a “Havana in the sand.”
Nevertheless, in a September 2015 letter responding to calls by more than 100 former US ambassadors warning against the dangers of the deal, US Secretary of State John Kerry wrote:
We share the concern expressed by many in Congress regarding Iran’s continued support for terrorist and proxy groups throughout the region, its propping up of the Asad regime in Syria, its efforts to undermine the stability of its regional neighbors, and the threat it poses to Israel. We have no illusion that this behavior will change following implementation of the JCPOA.
Yet, Jeffrey wrote, in implementing the JCPOA, actions and comments “from the president on down” have undermined America’s ability to maintain its own power in the region.
“Administration responses to crises generated by Iran since the JCPOA have been mixed, but certainly fall short of what it would take to persuade skeptical regional states that Washington is following through,” he wrote.
As a result, he said, Middle Eastern countries have taken matters into their own hands where dealing with Iran’s aggressive behavior is concerned:
Absent a White House that is willing to “lead from the front,” regional players have acted individually. Saudi Arabia has been the strongest in opposing Iran…The United Arab Emirates and in some respects Qatar have followed similar strategies. Oman and Kuwait are on the sidelines. Jordan is worried about Iran but has more pressing threats. Egypt remains largely absent from the regional stage. Turkey supported a past Iranian nuclear deal…but it now sees Iran as a both a regional rival and trading partner…As for Israel, many top figures, including leading military officials, recognize that the JCPOA has temporarily restrained Iran’s nuclear quest, though Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu himself has not conceded this point. Israel has simultaneously courted Moscow, remained generally neutral on Assad, and reacted to the Iran-Hezbollah alliance with fairly frequent military strikes in Syria.
The administration mainly appears interested in preserving the accord and its new channels with Tehran while running its still-limited campaign against the Islamic State. Left to their own devices and faced with an Iran on the march, regional states are responding in an incoherent and dangerous fashion…To the extent the JCPOA enabled this, it has degraded Middle East security.
The stated aim of the JCPOA was to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Despite repeated denials from Tehran that its nuclear program is peaceful, top Iranian officials — such as Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — have vowed that nothing will stop the country from becoming a nuclear power.