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The diminished legacy of the Iran deal

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Let’s rewind the clock all the way back to 2015, when advocates for the Iranian nuclear deal were making the case that it would help bring stability to the Middle East. For example, a group of international relations scholars and Middle East experts claimed in a petition:

While the JCPOA is primarily a non-proliferation agreement that successfully closes off all weaponization pathways in the Iranian nuclear program, it carries with it significant peace dividends by making diplomacy and dialogue available for conflict resolution — a necessary step to tackle all of the region’s sources of tensions, be they terrorism, sectarianism, or unilateralism.

This seemed to match the thinking of President Obama, who explained the day the Iran deal was struck that, “put simply, no deal means a greater chance of more war in the Middle East.”

I bring all this up because I’m in Abu Dhabi right now and it sure seems like those 2015 predictions will not be coming to pass in 2016. In fact, according to the National’s Justin Vela, things are just starting to heat up:

Saudi Arabia and its allies moved to further isolate Iran on Monday as anger grew over attacks on Riyadh’s diplomatic missions in the country.

As my Washington Post colleagues Liz Sly and Brian Murphy report, Kuwait has joined in the fun and recalled its ambassador from Iran as well.

Let’s be clear: Everyone has behaved badly, but the Saudis precipitated the current crisis in executing Nimr. There is no way that Riyadh did not anticipate this kind of diplomatic flare-up.

So why did they do it? Bloomberg News’s Eli Lake blames the Iran deal — or, rather, the implications of the Iran deal for American support of Saudi interests:

At the root of the problem for Sunni Arab states is the nuclear deal reached last summer by Iran and Western nations. When the White House sold the pact to Congress and Middle Eastern allies, its message was clear: Nothing in the deal would prevent the U.S. from sanctioning Iran for non-nuclear issues. Yet that has not been the case.

I would argue that it goes deeper than that — you have to go back to Obama’s public statements that the Gulf states’ internal difficulties are greater than the threat posed by Iran. Kevin Drum — who is far from sympathetic to the Saudi position — nonetheless acknowledges the very real reason for Saudi insecurity:

The U.S. failed to support Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak during the Arab Spring, which raised fears that the U.S. wouldn’t support Saudi leaders if Iran managed to instigate a popular revolt by Saudi Arabia’s Shiite minority. Then came the much loathed nuclear deal with Iran, which threatened to change the Mideast balance of power in Iran’s favor. And of course, low oil prices are taking a toll on the kingdom too. Not to mention the fact that America doesn’t really need Saudi oil these days, which makes the longtime partnership between the two a little shaky. Plus the Saudis are fighting a proxy war against Iran in Yemen that’s not going well.

It is possible that no amount of Obama administration hand-holding and backstopping was going to placate the anxiety of the Sunni states in the wake of the Iran deal. Still, if you look at the past year, the administration seems to have devoted very little time to gardening in the Gulf region. Which guarantees continued bloodshed in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and . . . I’ve lost count of the sectarian conflicts at this point.

It is still likely that the Iran deal will continue to be implemented. But it also seems increasingly likely that the negative externalities of negotiating the deal are rendering it far less significant in advancing the oxymoron that is “Middle East stability.”

 

This article was written by DANIEL W. DREZNER from The Washington Post and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.


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