To Defeat ISIS, Washington Needs To Keep The Nuclear Deal With Iran

To Defeat ISIS, Washington Needs To Keep The Nuclear Deal With Iran
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To Defeat ISIS, Washington Needs To Keep The Nuclear Deal With Iran

The election of Donald Trump has introduced a sea change in American foreign policy. Trump’s vision has fateful and potentially devastating ramifications for the Middle East, and Iran in particular. In a nutshell, Trump was propelled to power by a brand of populism known as “national-racial populism” (as opposed to the progressive class-based populism embraced by the Left). During the campaign, Trump spoke out against Mexicans, Muslims and other minorities who, in his view, threaten the national interests of America’s white population. 

Since Trump provided very few details about his foreign policy, and some of the details were confused and contradictory, it is difficult to decipher what the specifics are. The contradicting statements he made both before and after the election have kept Washington’s allies and enemies waiting for a clear sign of the direction Trump’s foreign policy will take. However, national-racial populism correlates with international isolationism, a sentiment that Trump has repeatedly emphasized. 

Trump, who repeatedly described the agreement between Washington and Tehran over Iran’s nuclear program – officially the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – as the “one of the dumbest deals ever,” has already called for abolishing it. This may provide Congress with an opportunity to pass additional legislation to create a new set of unilateral American sanctions.  Although the United States cannot unilaterally abrogate the JCPOA, the Congress has already moved to impose additional sanctions on Iran, by the extension of the Iran Sanctions Act (ISA) which expires in December 2016.  The Israel lobby organizations like the Iran Project of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD) - an emotional force that is harming American national interest - which took a leading role in trying to undermine the vote on the JCPOA in Congress in 2015, is behind the new wave of activism.   Following Donald Trump’s election, Congress is rushing to block the sale of Boeing passenger planes allowed by President Barack Obama's administration. Congress further seeks to merge the measures with another bill that would prohibit the Export-Import Bank from helping to finance deals involving Iran. Unlike President Obama, President-elect Donald Trump is not expected to veto the anti-Iran bills, setting a relatively low bar for their passage.

As of this writing it is impossible to predict the outcome of the anti-Iranian stand in Washington. Potentially, the consequences on the internal politics in Iran can be substantial. The presidential election in Iran is scheduled for May 2017 and it is essential for current President Hassan Rouhani to show an improvement in the economy to win. Further sanctions may erode whatever success Rouhani – who has assembled a team of leaders dubbed the “Normalizers” for their calls for normalizing relations with Washington – have scored, and usher in a hardline opponent of rapprochement into office. Should this scenario play out, there is even a possibility that Iran would default on its JCPOA commitments. At the very least, the hardline players in Tehran will adopt a more aggressive approach, and would be less open to a cooperative policy in the region.  Some analysts and policy makers, mostly those who support Israel’s views on the issue – suggest that the Trump administration should torpedo the nuclear pact, and pursue firm policies in countering Iran’s militaristic, hegemonic and ideological ambitions. Countering Iran, they argue, would lead to significant changes that would reduce the regional tensions.  But it is important to note that the JCPOA has served as the basis for cooperation between Tehran and Washington in countering the ISIS terror group, which has taken over parts of Iraq and Syria. Torpedoing the American part of the JCPOA, not only will not help build on those gains in the pursuit of stability in the region, but it would further lead to destabilization. Not to mention that with the emergence of ISIS, both Tehran and Washington gained a surprising mutual interest in fighting the same enemy. The United States did not want to see Iraq and Syria fall into the hands of extremists, and Iran did not want to see them fall into the hands of forces, backed by Saudi Arabia. Moreover, Washington understood that Tehran could act as a partner, not only to fight common enemies, but also to promote regional security due to the fact that Iran has sufficient capability to exercise political power and to facilitate conflict resolution in contested grounds in the region.  Countering Iran and scrapping the nuclear deal could undo Washington’s gains in Iraq, let the war in Syria to continue, and the instability would spread throughout the entire region, particularly in the areas which Iran has influence and capability to exercise political power, including Baghdad, Damascus, Kabul, Beirut, and Sanaa, practically one-fifth of the Arab world. Analysts have already advised that it is in Washington’s best interests that Iran use that influence constructively. Otherwise, the United States would have to fight Tehran’s influence, while fighting against terror groups without any cooperation from Tehran. In other words, the immediate result of scrapping the JCPOA will be the rise of Iran’s power and expansionism in the region at least in the foreseeable future. This result will be in conflict with the wishes of those who call for the containment of Iran.  The new U.S. administration should work to improve relations with Iran instead. Because it is not in America’s interest to see Iran forced to abandon the JCPOA.  Therefore, embracing a neorealist foreign policy, Washington should seek to mend fences with Tehran. For all of these reasons, the Trump administration (assuming that he would act to serve American interests) should accept the JCPOA and focus on its implementation. Pushing Iran may please the critics of the JCPOA – including Republicans in the Congress, Israel, and Saudi Arabia – but it will not serve Washington’s interests in the region. What the region needs is peace and stability by eliminating the ISIS terror group and it is almost impossible without cooperation between Iran, the United States and other regional countries.

This article was published in Tehran Times on January 2, 2017.

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of IRAM.