From the “axis of evil” to the world system

From the “axis of evil” to the world system

Selin Nasi
President Barack Obama has achieved two of the foreign policy goals he set upon coming to power. One of them was ending the wars that started during the Bush administration and bringing the soldiers back home, and the other one was reaching a nuclear deal with Iran, which was labelled as a part of the “axis of evil” by President George Bush and his staff.

In an interview he gave to the New York Times following the Iran deal, President Obama wisely framed the purpose of the agreement, trying to lay more realistic foundations with regard to the expectations from the Iran deal. He limited the objectives of the deal to preventing nuclear armament in Iran and opening its nuclear energy program to international monitoring. In other words, he gave the message: “Do not expect sea changes in Iran’s regional behavior as a result of this agreement.”

However, as is known, the deal also signifies the political and economic integration of Iran beyond mere nuclear limitations.  The underlying logic here is basically the democratic peace principle that will be built over liberal economy. What the supporters of this deal expect to see is that with the removal of sanctions, the increase in the economic welfare in Iran will translate into a democratic opening. As the cost of peace increases, Iranian pro-reformists will push for relatively moderate policies more in line with the West, which will eventually result in taming evil.

Those who believe the sanctions in fact pushed Iran to the negotiation table blame the Obama administration with naivety, claiming that extreme risks were taken for open-ended expectations that can only be achieved in the long term. However, it is true the embargo did not create the desired changes in Iranian policies - we saw this from the support given to Hezbollah, Hamas and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for many years, despite the embargo – yet the military intervention option does not promise for a solution either. As expressed by Hisham Melhem in one of his articles in Al Arabiya referencing North Korea and Pakistan as examples, if these countries could produce nuclear missiles despite their limited resources, a country like Iran that has information technology, qualified man power and financial resources will, sooner or later, have nuclear weapons even if there is a military intervention.

In the upcoming days, the Sunni-Shiite struggle that has been disguised as proxy wars will heat up when Iran transfers new resources designed by the deal to its supporters in the Middle East. We will see whether the Sunni block that has been created under Saudi auspices during the intervention in Yemen will be transformed into an Arab NATO. Yet we also have examples of bilateral alliances such as the military cooperation agreement between Turkey and Qatar.

In any case, we will be facing a period in which countries in the region will pursue stronger security ties and unite against the threat perception of a rising Iran.

U.S. Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter has already started a diplomacy tour in the Middle East to reassure disillusioned allies. In fact, the foundations of increased military collaboration with the Gulf countries were already laid during the Camp David summit in May.

As for Israel, following the crushing defeat, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the new defense systems offered by the U.S. as a means of consolation, whereas the military wing seems to be in favor of leaving pride aside and seeing what they offer first. On the other hand, those who hold Prime Minister Netanyahu responsible for the current state of U.S.-Israel relations such as Ami Ayalon, the former director of Shin Bet, complain about Israel being sidelined in the course of negotiations. Israel could end up more secure by putting pressure towards adding a multinational military intervention option as a condition in case Iran violates the agreement instead of drawing an analogy to Munich. However, by rejecting all kinds of agreements with Iran right from the start, Israel lost this trump card.

As neighbors, the lifting of the embargo will surely boost mutual trade and energy cooperation between Iran and Turkey, thus the return of Iran to the system offers many opportunities for Turkey along with increasing competition in the region. Putting Turkey-Israel relations back on track within the scope of foreign policy revision, of which we have been witnessing early signals recently, would serve to benefit both countries in terms of balancing Iran in the region. In this context, steps that will be taken towards the solution of the Palestine issue would both accelerate the normalization process between Turkey and Israel while on the other hand increase Israel’s legitimacy in the Sunni Arab world. 

Who knows? Perhaps, the third foreign policy goal of President Obama may also be achieved before he leaves office, if the international community can display the same prudence shown during the negotiations with Iran for Israel-Palestine peace.