First, a review.
America wants a Middle East divided into a stable balance of power guaranteed by the United States
This is the working formula for Europe that ended European anarchy. Remember that from the unification of Germany in 1871 to the end of World War II, Europe was endemically at war or near enough to it. The end of the war created a new balance of power in which the U.S. counteracted the Soviet Union. That balance prevented any further pan-European conflicts. Today, U.S. power ensures that, no matter who comes into government in traditionally militaristic states like Germany, France, Britain, Italy, or Spain, none of them will return to their imperial roots.
The U.S. seeks the same settlement in the Middle East. In a system of allies where none of them are particularly stronger than any of the others, and all of them are reliant upon the U.S. for security (making any aggressive move doomed from the start, since aggression means forfeiting that security), the Middle East can enjoy a long peace similar to Europe. All this accomplishes America’s goals – it keeps everyone dependent on the U.S. (and not Russia or China) and it keeps the cheap oil coming.
This deal is a big step towards that future
After two failed nation-building exercises in Afghanistan and Iraq, neo-conservatism is largely discredited and highly unpopular. The United States does not want to try to nation-build Iran into a liberal democracy. But it’s also come to realize it doesn’t have to. The moral pontificating that’s gripped American foreign policy from the 1990s onward seems about to end. U.S. foreign policy is increasingly focusing on realistic interests and so must work even with regimes it finds repugnant.
Iran’s regime need not change to secure American goals. America worked with one Iranian thug; it can work with a new set just the same. What must change is the distrust between the two. This deal undermined an overriding assumption for both sides – that they must be enemies.
Israel, naturally, is pissed
A balance of power in the Middle East is not necessarily in the interest of those within Israel who seek more territory. Should a balance of power emerge, it will mean that Israel can no longer act with impunity – and certainly not annex further territory. Netanyahu and his government have a strong base of voters who believe a much bigger Israel than the one of 1967; their shrieks make sense in consideration.
But in the long run, a balance of power favors Israel. It will mean an end to the consistent threats to their state since its inception. That in turn will mean an end to their expensive and extensive military, which sucks down a hefty proportion of GDP.
Saudi Arabia isn’t particularly happy either
Should Iran be pulled into the American sphere once again, it will reduce the kingdom’s leverage with its superpower patron. The Saudis could then throw a tantrum and threaten oil supplies only to be undermined by their rivals in Tehran. Such a situation is hardly ideal for the royals, who are used to getting what they want. Moreover, an Iran free of American military attack is an Iran that can put pressure on Saudi interests in Kuwait and Bahrain, both places with restive Shi’a movements.
The emerging order will pillar itself between the three great civilization centers of antiquity
Like the Successor states of Alexander, the region will be divided up into three centers of power – Iran, Turkey, and Egypt. Unlike the Successor states, who had no outsider to keep them well-behaved, none of the three will be allowed to dominate the other, nor will they be interfered with by other great powers. For a long time America’s had Saudi Arabia as something of a poor man’s ally – the best that could be done under the circumstances but not nearly as appealing as Iran, with its larger population, borders near rival Russia, its ability to influence Central Asia, the Subcontinent, and the Middle East, and a more advanced economy. Swapping Saudi Arabia for Iran makes a great deal of sense.
It’s a win so long as the deal holds
America has huge geopolitical incentives to avoid war and bring Iran into its camp. It needs a new, bigger ally in the Middle East now that Russia and China are starting to get interested. It doesn’t want another costly and wasteful occupation to get there. Such things cannot be offered by Saudi Arabia or Israel. So it’s only option is to co-opt the ruling mullahs and hope for the best.
Are the mullahs mad, though? ‘Cuz if they are…
They will break the deal, go nuclear, and trigger an arms race (and probably a U.S. nuclear presence in the region). Under the best of circumstances, they will fight a cold war with the U.S. that they will eventually lose. Under the worst, they will use their nukes to kill millions. That would result in a nuclear war that would annihilate their culture and nation. It’s unlikely they’re that crazy.
More likely, they’re more rational than they appear
Rhetoric should not be confused for action. Since their taking power, Iran’s ruling clerics have behaved largely as rationally as any other set of rulers would. They miscalculated they could defeat Saddam, but not without reason (as they were the bigger of the two states). They’ve avoided war with the Great Satan, knowing to do so would be to lose. There’s no reason today to assume they truly are frothing psychopaths that will nuke Israel as soon as they can. Such a viewpoint only serves Israeli interests, which currently desire as great of freedom of action as possible at the expense of regional peace.
Israel is ironically the wild care here
Will Israel strike anyway? Netanyahu probably realizes that such a thing would bring down his government, and so the incentive isn’t there as much. But of all the powers at play here, Israel’s sitting government benefits most from conflict and least from peace. They probably won’t want a war, because they’d lose the election the day after it was finished. But they’ll shout and shriek and call it the end of the world ’till they got hoarse in lieu of it.
In the final sum, a new balance of power will bring peace
And while the sitting Israeli government might not see that, the next one probably will. It’s good news for those in the region; let’s hope it lasts.
- U.S. risked Israeli ties in bid for security (koreaherald.com)
- Robert Fisk: He may huff and puff but Benjamin Netanyahu is on his own now as nuclear agreement isolates Israel (uprootedpalestinians.wordpress.com)