In these early days of President Trump’s hardline but pragmatic administration, many believe that his approach to Iran is helping to restore some semblance of regional stability. The simple message and tone that has been set by the White House may be all that’s needed.
Trump made it clear that under his watch, the U.S. will be taking a more traditional, “realistic” and conservative approach to the Middle East, which may have already restored a stronger sense of order in Iran. Everyone, from Gulf monarchs to illiterate conscripts in the Iranian army, understands this message.
This affects two big elements of Middle East policy, as Trump’s position makes Iranian adventurism throughout the Middle East far less likely, and it decreases the likelihood of U.S. allies to engage in destabilizing unilateral military operations of their own out of a perceived need to project strength in the face of Iran.
Not only does the nuclear deal fail to guarantee that Iran will never obtain nuclear weapons, in the process of negotiating it, Iranian leaders, sensed that the U.S. wanted it more than they did, and felt emboldened throughout the region in countries such as Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.
An example of this was the lack of American response to a series of Iranian cyber-attacks on U.S. banks. One official noted, “If we had unleashed the fury in response to that DDoS attack, I don’t know if we would have gotten an Iran deal.”
The Saudi war in Yemen is an example of how traditional U.S. allies viewed the U.S. rapprochement with Tehran in this context. Saudi Arabia felt abandoned by the U.S. They responded accordingly by going their own way, to “act on its own” to project strength towards Iran.
These same U.S. allies feel that the U.S. stands behind them again, under Trump, thus reducing their temptation for Yemen-style operations. For example, just this week Secretary of State Tillerson approved the resumption of weapon sales to Saudi Arabia.
Restoring alliances with traditional allies in the Middle East is far more likely to get significant contributions from them, furthering Trump’s “America First” agenda.
The appeasement policies, used to push through the nuclear deal, gave traditional allies little incentive to help on issues important to the U.S. None of the Gulf countries have helped with the Syrian refugee issue. Nor did Israel make conciliatory gestures on the settlements or the peace process.
Under Trump, Saudi Arabia is volunteering to send more troops to Syria, and has been willingn to work with the Trump’s administration in setting up safe zones for Syrian refugees to receive shelter in the short-term.
While Trump’s approach won’t solve the Middle East’s problems, restoring a clear sense of balance between Iran and everyone else, and being clear about where the U.S. stands, has made a major improvement.