“Pushing Back” Iran

Image credit:Poster Collection, US3436, Hoover Institution Archives.

On both the left and the right, there is a consensus in Washington that the United States needs to “push back” against the Islamic Republic’s nefarious actions in the Levant, Iraq, and Yemen. The clerical regime largely controls the ground war in Syria: Tehran’s foreign Shiite militias, imported from Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, and Iranian-directed native forces lead the battle against the Sunni insurrection. In Iraq, the Islamic Republic has energetically encouraged sectarian conflict, aiding politicians and militias that have taken a hardline toward political compromise with Sunnis. Iraqi members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps have become senior officials in the government. And in Yemen, Iran has backed the Shiite Houthis in their campaign to dominate the country. What once would have seemed far-fetched—Tehran trying to develop a Lebanese Hezbollah-like movement among Yemen’s “Fiver” Zaydi Shiites, who have never been close to the “Twelver” Jafaris of Iran—is now conceivable. If such Shiite militancy becomes anchored in the south of the peninsula, Tehran will surely try to aim it northward toward the badly oppressed Shiites of Bahrain and the oil-rich Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia.

But among Republicans and Democrats, no one really wants to clarify what “push back” means. For cause: Any serious American effort against the Islamic Republic will inevitably risk the nuclear agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which the Trump administration has signaled that it will, with increasing reluctance, keep but “rigorously” enforce. Within the Democratic Party, the atomic accord has become sacrosanct. Yet the two objectives cannot co-exist. The sine qua non of the agreement is to trade temporary restraints on Iran’s nuclear aspirations for the lifting of sanctions against the Islamic Republic. Any serious American effort to punish Tehran will inevitably include the use of escalating sanctions. This is so even if the United States doesn’t deploy more forces into the region, which would mean, among other things, that the only unilateral way Washington could painfully hit Tehran would be through sanctions. Neither Congress nor the White House is going to confront the Islamic Republic and concurrently fuel its expansion. American foreign policy can sustain severe contradictions, but this one would be too much: We would be paying for our own defeat. If we imagine scenarios where the United States actually puts more troops into either Syria or Iraq (unlikely with President Trump), or just keeps troops in the latter against Iran’s wishes (not at all unlikely after the defeat of the Islamic State in Mosul), then we could rapidly find ourselves in an indirect shooting war with the mullahs’ praetorians, the Revolutionary Guards, who oversee all of Iran’s foreign adventures.

To read more: http://www.hoover.org/research/pushing-back-iran#

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