At last month’s United Nations General Assembly the world was given soothing proof that it may not yet be too presumptuous to dub a much-feared potential scuffle with Iran as ‘the World War that wasn’t.’ Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, executing a graceful climbdown from the summit of all his bluff and bluster, relented and said that the red line for attacking Iran is not imminent and that zero hour will instead occur in spring or summer of next year-and that would be assuming that diplomacy implodes. As Netanyahu doodled on his Warner Bros. bomb cartoon, it was also announced that negotiations with Iran would soon resume and that both sides were anxious to get back to the table sometime in October. President Obama could then virtually assure his re-election if the United States, in a necessary gesture of goodwill, eases or eliminates certain sanctions on Iran and the price of oil plummets just as voters enter the polling booths. The benefits of this preliminary deal will be so readily evident, that we’ll be baffled as to why this compromise was so long stalled.
Iran is not making-and never will make-nukes so this procrastination is daft and there’s no reason why amicable ties cannot be restored forthwith. Neil Padukone, for one, is calling for friendlier relations and the case he makes unwittingly ends up getting to the bottom of why low-level hostilities must continue to color U.S.-Iran relations. Grappling for a solution to extricate the U.S. from its dependence on Pakistan for re-supplying our troops in Afghanistan, Padukone found an alternative route: the Chabadhar road… in Iran. Using Iranian territory for the transit of materiel is obviously impossible until relations are less than frosty so Padukone urges us to engage with Iran, especially since “the two countries’ interests, particularly in opposing the Taliban and enhancing trade in Central Asia, align almost perfectly.” He recommends that while these P5+1 talks unfold the U.S. must consider a “surprising reality”-namely, that “Iran may be an important solution to the problems that cost America blood and treasure.”
But what is so alluring about the U.S. staying entrenched in Central Asia that it compels Mr. Padukone to buck the governing trend on Iran and advocate for engagement? His suggestion isn’t objectionable but why does it have to be framed in terms of military advantage rather than rightful, sensible foreign policy? America should declare friendship with all those nations and then divest politically and militarily from the region. This retrenchment, however, is furthest from what a sizable portion of prominent policymakers desire. Indeed, their goal is preventing any shift whatsoever in the degree of our involvement in the Middle East and Central Asia, including the Obama administration’s Pacific Pivot. Though it is by no means as drastic as complete non-interventionism, a renewed focus on East Asia where a majority of resources would be diverted to that arena still sends a tremendous shudder through those whose fervid interest it is to keep the Middle East as the linchpin of U.S. strategy and preventing pivots elsewhere (including a pivot homeward).
This faction in Washington that is reluctant to withdraw even a whit from the Middle East are equally as determined as Padukone to remain but have not yet felt driven to consider reconciling and cooperating with Iran. In lieu of this they have been pursuing an alternate approach-antagonizing Iran (which they know is no threat) with such bellowing bellicosity and paralyzing sanctions that we cannot take lightly the notion of not being there on the off-chance a provoked and enraged Tehran lobs a few missiles at our ‘defenseless’ Gulf State allies. The unceasing stream of high-volume noise that we’re subjected to on the Iranian menace is nothing more than an attempt to pull back against the tug of the Pacific Pivot.
And their efforts are working. According to Robert Haddick at Foreign Policy, “If the tensions in the Gulf continue to mount, the planned “pivot” to the Pacific may have to be indefinitely postponed.” After remarking that the alarm over Iran “seems to be absorbing 60 percent of the Navy’s aircraft carriers,” he concludes that–in an inversion of what Obama Administration planners intended–the Pacific is being relegated to a side-show and the Persian Gulf is becoming the main attraction which, moreover, “will remain so as long as deterring Iran remains an open-ended commitment.” What Haddick sees at play here cannot have been lost upon the various players who have hoped to re-orient Washington’s priorities ever since the Pacific Pivot was announced late last year. Therefore, it isn’t a shooting war they seek but an excuse to keep tensions with Iran open-ended so the U.S. military commitment doesn’t diminish in the Gulf.
No one sane wants to attack Iran but does this mean promoting regime change isn’t in the cards either? No, for the new strategy being employed by the resisters of the Pacific Pivot advises against it. A recent Senate Foreign Relations Committee report cautions that if the U.S. is to retain bases and power projection in the Middle East while avoiding popular backlash-and this has greater resonance in light of the Innocence of Muslims kerfuffle–there can be no further adventurism that threatens to leave the region in tumult, which is exactly what overthrowing the mullahs would bring. In addition, I’ve written before how it’s very likely Washington isn’t serious about regime change but nevertheless uses the prospect of it as a sword of Damocles keeping the Iranian leadership on edge. When Iran then responds to that kind of rhetoric and begins to test missiles, threatens to close the Straits of Hormuz, and otherwise bristles and tell the West to back off it plays right into the hands off those opponents of the Pacific Pivot who demand in reaction that the greater part of the U.S. navy stay parked in the neighborhood. Now why would they want to remove a regime that grants them this opportunity?