How to Avert Yet Another War in the Middle East

Much has been speculated and written about the possibility, trajectory, and the likely consequences of a war between the United States and Iran. In case of a wider war that may threaten the survival of the Islamic Republic, Iranian leadership will inevitably push for an all-out war that will drag Saudi Arabia and Israel into the fore. In the worse scenario, Iran will fall into disarray and instability, with a possible military rule under the remnants of the Iranian military and the Revolutionary Guards Corp, the IRGC. The consequences of such a war will also impact Iran’s neighbors, as far away as Israel, Lebanon, and Jordan. With essentially weak and ineffective governments in Kabul, Tehran, Baghdad, and Damascus, terrorism will become rampant and more violent than before, with inevitable spillover into Europe, and North America. Millions of new refugees will push their way Westward toward Europe, destabilizing Turkey along the way. The United States in turn will be bogged down more deeply in a state of hostility in the Middle East for years to come and with trillions of dollars wasted. The U.S. presence in the region will be extremely costly, hastening its hegemonic decline. Moreover, the inevitable rise in price of oil and natural gas will have a wider global impact: It will weaken European economies’ already fragile state and will slow down the economies of China and India as major importers of oil. In the long term, Iran will further distant itself from the West and will accelerate its nuclear program. The consensus, therefore, should be that such a war of choice must be inconceivable.

President Donald Trump so far remains the only president in recent memory to not have led the U.S. in an invasion of a foreign land under some pretext. President Trump’s preoccupation with domestic politics and a brazen confrontation with U.S. economic partners, be it China, Canada, Mexico, or the European Union, leaves little incentives for yet another U.S. military involvement in the Middle East. This is particularly true for a president whose rise to power and hopes for a second term owes to his promise of ‘No Endless Wars.’ A U.S.-Iranian rapprochement, therefore, can be instrumental in serving the cause of peace and cooperation and prosperity in the Persian Gulf region and beyond. The rise in Iranian power can be funneled toward regional peace, stability, and cooperation; Iran’s wider regional participation can serve the cause of Persian Gulf security and could justify a reduced U.S. military presence in the region in line with a ‘Trumpian America First’ slogan. For a successful rapprochement between the United States and Iran, however, the United States needs to remain true to the fundamental principles of Realpolitik in pursuit of its longer-term national interest in the region. Such an approach would require U.S. reverting back to its Cold War policy of political realism that relied on offshore power balancing among regional rivals to ensure regional stability, without interfering with national politics of local actors. The neoliberal and neoconservative-driven U.S. Mideast policies since the end of the Cold War have led to wars, instability, and uncertainties and at the expense of its national interest. Given these persistent failures, it is time for the United States to embrace a more thoughtful and effective Realpolitik strategy with Iran.            

Ali R. Abootalebi, Professor of Political Science, teaches Global and Middle Eastern Politics at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He can be reached at abootaar@uwec.edu