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National Security & Defense

How to Stop Iran’s Growing Hegemony

Iran’s nuclear-weapons program is perhaps the gravest long-term danger facing the United States and the world today, and will remain so even under the deal Obama wants. But another emerging danger might actually be more pressing. Iran is moving with astonishing speed to cement its grip over large swathes of the Arab Middle East. That development is actually being facilitated by the United States, whose president looks forward to the day when Iran is “a very successful regional power” and has even lent Iran the U.S. Air Force for use in Iran’s operations against ISIS (and against Iraqi Sunnis generally).

Keep in mind that when Obama got to office in 2009, the Iranian revolution had failed for 30 years to extend anywhere outside Iran except the Shiite enclaves of Lebanon, where Iran’s Hezbollah proxy army lies in wait. Now Iran is extending its grip across Iraq, through Syria, and into Lebanon, while simultaneously helping engineer a pro-Iranian revolution in Yemen. Now the entire Arab population of the Middle East between Egypt and Iran faces Iranian power in three directions. The situation is so dire that our Arab allies have already gone to war, particularly in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia hardly bothered to inform us before it launched a major bombing campaign against the Houthi rebels. Our allies know that they’re on their own now.  

In a must-read Weekly Standard article, Max Boot and Michael Doran explore the grave danger posed by Iran’s expanding hegemony. They call for a return to the “Carter Doctrine,” whereby the U.S. declared that it would not permit any single power to dominate the Middle East. The key thing is to preserve the independence of Iraq. Here’s an excerpt:

Instead of actively opposing Iranian designs, the White House gives every indication of acquiescing in them, because it views Iran as a valuable ally in the war against ISIS and because it does not want to hinder the possibility of a nuclear accord with Iran. By bombing in Tikrit, Obama turned the U.S. Air Force, in effect, into the Iranian Air Force—a model that is likely to be followed in Mosul as well. 

Turning a blind eye to Iran’s growing role in Iraq is a far greater miscalculation than allowing Iran to consolidate its power in Lebanon, a much smaller and less strategically important state. Iraq has the world’s fifth-largest proven oil reserves and the second-largest in OPEC. With Iran now dominating the security sector of Iraq, it is only a matter of time until it takes control, directly or by proxy, of the southern oil fields, which lie in the Shiite heartland. With these oil reserves under its control, and with nuclear sanctions lifted, Iran would become overnight the dominant player in OPEC and hence one of the dominant forces in world energy markets. 

And it is not just the Iraqi oil fields that we need to worry about. Remember that Iranian domination of Lebanon has allowed Hezbollah to project its power against both Israel (in the form of rocket attacks and cross-border raids) and Syria (in the form of military aid that allows Assad to remain in power). Iraq is next door to Kuwait, the country with the seventh-largest proven oil reserves, and Saudi Arabia, with the second-largest proven oil reserves. Imagine if Iran were to use its newfound power base in Iraq to intimidate or even invade its oil-rich neighbors—something that is by no means unthinkable given that many Iraqis (and not just the late Saddam Hussein) regard Kuwait as their country’s 19th province, and given that Saudi Arabia’s oil fields are located in that country’s eastern provinces, where there is a substantial Shiite underclass. Iran, whose leaders still chant “Death to America,” would then cement its position as the dominant force in the Middle East, giving a sinister meaning to the term Persian Gulf.

Rather than giving Iran a free hand to “Lebanonize” Iraq (and its neighbors), Obama would be better advised to hark back to an alternative policy enunciated by another Democratic president—Jimmy Carter. Following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, Carter proclaimed: “An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”

Read the rest here

Mario Loyola is a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the director of the Environmental Finance and Risk Management Program of Florida International University, and a visiting fellow at the National Security Institute of George Mason University. The opinions expressed in this column are his alone.


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