U.S. acceptance of Iran deal without changing regional policy will only further inflame sectarian conflict
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Many of those supporting the JCPOA argue that the alternative to the agreement is an American war with Iran. Ironically, in order to balance the regional consequences of the agreement, the United States may well need to assume an increased risk of war in Syria and other frontline states.
One of the reasons that the period leading up to the JCPOA has been so volatile in the Middle East is that many regional observers have concluded that American policy in the region is based on an American acceptance of Iranian hegemony on the ground. For the conspiracy minded, and their number is legion, this goes back to the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003 and then to turn the country over to its Shi’a majority. From an American point of view, whatever one thought of the war itself, the establishment of majority rule represented the triumph of our beliefs in democracy; many in the Middle East viewed it as a deliberate choice by the United States to promote Iran and to check Sunni power. Suspicion intensified when the United States then, despite talk about ‘red lines’ and statements that Assad ‘must go’ remained inactive in Syria as casualties and the refugee toll mounted. Where the majority is Shi’a, many said, the United States supports majority rule. Where the majority is Sunni, the United States does nothing.
That perception has become destabilizing in a region where escalating sectarian conflict between Sunni and Shi’a increasingly dominates the agenda; endorsing the JCPOA without also making major changes in American regional policy would confirm that perception and further drive the region in the direction of radical polarization, religious war, and transnational conflict.
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.