JCPOA would be damaging to U.S. interests in three ways
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The inevitable increase in Iranian conventional resources and capabilities that follows the JCPOA can damage American interests in three ways. First, if Iran devotes even some of its gains from the agreements to its regional allies and hegemonic goals, it could create a major crisis in the region that would require massive American intervention to avoid the danger of having one country dominate the oil wealth of the entire Gulf. Some countries would be endangered directly by subversion or conflict; others, increasingly surrounded by Iranian clients and allies, would feel the need to align their foreign policy and their oil production and pricing strategies with Iran. The United States could be faced with a triumphalist Iranian regime that would be able to manipulate world oil prices and supplies. It would be extremely difficult for future presidents to create effective coalitions to limit or balance Iran under these circumstances.
Second, fear of Iran can drive American allies and other actors in the region to actions that destabilize the region or run counter to American interests. Concerns about potential proliferation among other regional countries who want to balance the Iranian nuclear program are one example of the potential ‘blowback’ from the JCPOA. But there are others. Saudi Arabia and other oil producing Gulf states could for example ‘circle the wagons’ among Sunni states, tightening their links with military and intelligence services in countries like Egypt and Pakistan in ways that undercut important American goals. Many Gulf countries will see the expansion of Pakistan’s nuclear capacity and growth in the quality and quantity of its arsenal of delivery systems as an important deterrent and counter to Iran. This could only intensify the arms race in South Asia and increase the chances of conflict between India and Pakistan. It will also likely lead to more resources and power going to figures in the military and nuclear establishment who share radical ideologies uncomfortably close to those of Al Qaeda and other dangerous groups. Bringing Pakistan more fully into Middle East politics would be a natural and obvious move for oil rich Sunni states alarmed by a rising Iran.
More broadly, fear of a rising Iran increases the incentives for rich individuals and states to deepen their links with fanatical organizations and fighters. Fanatical anti‐ Shi’a fighters may, from an American standpoint, be terrorists who are as antiwestern as they are anti‐Iran. If Iran’s regional power is seen as rising, however, many in the Sunni world will be tempted to support these organizations as indispensible allies in the fight against Iran.
Finally, the perception, plausible to some however incorrect, that Iran now has tacit American support in its quest for regional hegemony will act as a powerful recruiting incentive for radical pro‐Sunni jihadi groups throughout the Sunni world. Sectarian conflicts feed on apocalyptic fears; the perception that Shi’a ‘heretics’ are threatening the Islamic heartland and holy cities in the Arabian Peninsula will make it significantly easier for radicals to recruit new fighters – and to raise the money to employ, train and arm them.
U.S. allies in the gulf region are right to be concerned about an empowered and unfettered Iran after the nuclear deal. Additionally, there are concerns that the growing U.S.-Iranian rapproachment will further destabilize the Middle East.