The Center for a New American Security is releasing my new report this morning: Upheaval: U.S. Policy Towards Iran in a Changing Middle East. I had been ready to release this report in January, with a focus on how to better approach negotiations with Iran about its nuclear program and broader regional political issues in order to avoid an unnecessary and destructive war. But I felt that the Arab upheavals fundamentally changed the situation facing both the U.S. and Iran, creating both opportunities and challenges for both. Key U.S. allies in its efforts to contain and pressure Iran have either fallen from power or face serious internal threats, the Libya war has further undermined the logic of nuclear negotiations, Israeli and Saudi fears are growing, and the risk of an unwanted and disastrous war has grown.
Upheaval argues that the Obama administration's strategy towards Iran had been more successful in the narrow task of pressuring Tehran than many had expected, but that the foundations of its strategy of containment are rapidly crumbling. At the same time, Iran has had difficulty taking advantage of the struggles of some of its key Arab rivals, partly because of the powerful memory of its 2009 repression of its own protest movement and partly because of the emergence of more attractive competitors for the leadership of the "Resistance" such as Turkey and the new Egypt. The Saudi-led counter-revolution, particularly in Bahrain, threatens to repolarize the region in ways which could revive Iran's appeal across the region and undermine American efforts to reach out to emerging Arab publics. The risk of a rapid escalation to war along a range of flashpoints, from Israel's borders to the Gulf, is higher than many believe --- and such a war would radically repolarize the region, most likely against the United States.
Upheaval offers a range of policy recommendations to help guide the Obama administration towards an effective rethinking of its policy towards Iran -- including an appeal to avoid repolarization and inflation of the Iranian threat, more effective engagement with Arab publics and with emerging new independent-minded Arab players such as Egypt and Turkey, and a different approach to the nuclear negotiations. I expect some of the arguments to be controversial -- including the case for Iran's diminished power, the skepticism about negotiations in the current environment, and the risks of aligning with the Saudi-driven campaign against Tehran. As always, I look forward to comments, discussions, debate and feedback.
You can download the full report here.
Marc Lynch is associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University.