Salvo 11.30.2023 15 minutes

Promoting Iran


The Obama-Biden strategy of regional “integration” is misguided and misinformed.

Lincoln and Churchill mobilized the written and spoken word to inspire, inform, and set forth frankly the best path forward for their threatened polities. Skilled sophists such as National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Obama’s point man in the Biden White House, and his faction use language with subtlety to signal one thing to foreigners, and another to their domestic audience. They seek to anesthetize opposition at home, leave our less sophisticated allies in a state of frozen doubt, and reassure our enemies abroad, all in the same statement.

The theme of America’s Middle East strategy, mouthed repeatedly by Sullivan and company, is “integration.” The Middle East is to be “integrated” by American power and policy, thus allowing us to securely withdraw and focus on more pressing challenges in Europe and East Asia. However, it isn’t clear what “integration” means. No traditional foreign policy scholar or statesman in an unconquered, war-prone state system has ever used such a word or concept. Palmerston would have scratched his head if an Austrian or Russian diplomat had discussed the “integration” of Europe. Richelieu would have mobilized. Frederick the Great would have laughed (and then mobilized.) A strategy of “integration” has never been pursued by the statesmen of a serious Great Power.

There are two, and only two, modes by which a multistate system can be organized: a hegemony, or a balance of power. Either a single state dominates the system (brutally, moderately, or even beneficently) or no state is strong enough to do so, and states maintain their independence through a military and economic balance. If a single state conquers all the others, then the system disappears and is replaced by an empire. On occasion, an institution like the Papacy, or an idealist like Wilson, attempted to restrain states and pacify the system with an “idea,” such as Christian ethics or liberal, international law. These efforts always fail, because they cannot deal with the challenge of predatory or revolutionary states, which disregard all considerations other than their own ethos and power. When the Turks besieged Vienna in 1683, Louis XIV, an enemy of the Hapsburgs, replied to their appeal to Christian solidarity with the precious quip that “Crusades are out of fashion.” Hitler and the Japanese shredded the Covenant of the League of Nations, and Chinese mercantilism has overturned the ideal of a “rules based liberal order.”

So, we are back to hegemony or balance of power, and, if “integration” has any chance of success, it must be interpreted as a code word meaning one or the other. There is only one aspirant for the hegemon of the Middle East—the Islamic Republic of Iran. Therefore, “integration” could be a coded statement of support for Iranian hegemony. But why would the United States support this? America’s traditional policy has been to oppose the hegemony of any state over Europe, the Middle East, East Asia, or Eurasia as a whole. The domination of a single power over any region would allow the hegemon to marshal military power superior to America’s, concentrate that power to build a superior fleet, and project that power into the Western Hemisphere. We would be outmatched economically, militarily isolated, and vulnerable.

So long as the British prevented hegemons from emerging in Europe and Asia, we could remain aloof from global politics, safely parochial in our own hemisphere. Our comfortable disregard of global power politics between 1815 and 1914 was an historically specific grand strategy, never to return. Teddy Roosevelt well understood the obsolete logic of grand strategic aloofness. He mediated in Russia’s favor after Japan’s victory in 1905 to maintain a balance of power between the two in East Asia. Sensing the threat of German hegemony, he warned off that power in the Venezuelan debt crisis of 1903 and the Algeciras Conference of 1906. Far ahead of his countrymen, he understood the mortal threat that a German victory in Europe would have posed to the United States, and, if he had been President, would have (correctly) entered the war against Germany in 1914. Even Wilson, generally incapable of strategic thought, entered the war in 1917 to prevent a German hegemony.

While a hegemon in contemporary Europe or East Asia would wield power threatening to American safety, the same cannot be said, directly at least, about a hegemon in the Middle East. The region simply lacks the requisite economic and military potential. However, despite our prior and potential energy independence (or, at least, insulation from Middle Eastern supply shocks), our allies in Europe and Asia are not so fortunate. If Iran were to achieve Middle Eastern hegemony and dictate the policies of the Gulf monarchies, our allies in Europe, and, more importantly, Asia, would be rendered vulnerable and potentially neutralized. Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan simply cannot function without Middle Eastern energy. India, too, would of necessity modify its policies and allegiances. And what of Russia and China? They and Iran are, for now, allies determined to overturn America’s world power. This tripartite Axis is unnatural, limited, and vulnerable to splitting by a competent policy, but the United States currently lacks the culture and therefore the statesmen capable of exploiting Axis tensions.

Russia is a limited power incapable of dominating Europe. Even if it conquered Ukraine, Russia would have to organize and absorb Ukraine’s people in order to threaten the rest of Europe; more likely, the strain of the war will, eventually, tax the unity of the Russian Federation itself. China, however, is an altogether different matter. The wars unleashed by Russia and sponsored by Iran have benefited China more than any other state. Russia and Iran are increasingly dependent upon China to shield them from American power. China is a real hegemonic threat in Asia. True, if Iran were to dominate the Gulf states, its alliance with an energy-dependent China would tilt away from Iran’s current inferiority. However, a revolutionary, Iranian hegemon would still require Chinese support against the United States. America’s Asian allies would be fearful, dependent upon, and neutralized by a Chinese-Iranian alliance dominating the Middle East. The United States, in the interests of its own long- term safety, must not, under any circumstances, allow this to happen.

Let us assume that “integration” is a code word for a balance of power policy, rather than a ruinous Iranian hegemony. Logically speaking, when two Continental alliances oppose each other, the “offshore balancer” should always support the least ambitious, or the weaker (which are typically but not always identical.) When the Dual Alliance confronted the Dual Entente, the offshore balancer—Great Britain—correctly tilted towards the weaker Entente. Similarly, if a single state threatens to achieve hegemony, the offshore power ought to side with the putative hegemon’s weaker opponents, irrespective of moral or any other considerations. The United States correctly allied itself with the Soviet tyranny to defeat an even more dangerous tyranny—Nazi Germany. Then the United States correctly allied itself with China, in order to contain the potentially hegemonic Soviets. The result for us, was, for a time, safety.

These observations are not particularly novel, but they bear repeating because the Washington foreign policy class, for at least the last twenty years, has lost the plot. If China is the prime hegemonic threat, then we ought not to provoke Russia; it is a classic mistake to oppose the previous hegemonic threat after its moment has passed. If Iran is a threat to achieve Middle Eastern hegemony, then it is illogical to insult, disregard, and belittle Saudis, Israelis, and Egyptians. Any state which manages to drive together Russia and China—natural enemies—and Russia and Iran—natural competitors— is not being led by a set of Bismarcks or Metternichs. Above all, it is suicidal to appease a rising revolutionary power bent upon hegemony, as Chamberlain and the English discovered (too late). A traditional balance of power policy would therefore prescribe American support for the weaker party—the Sunni-Israeli de facto alliance—and oppose a potentially hegemonic Iran and its proxies. Siding with or appeasing the stronger party is counter to any traditional balance of power strategy. In the Middle East, therefore, the policy of the cunning, feral, and unpolished Trump administration was, beneath the surface, the traditional and orthodox policy of a serious Great Power.

A somewhat different balance of power policy is also possible. Rather than waiting for the would-be hegemon to attack the prevailing order, the critical balancer remains engaged in the threatened system, to prevent an assault from even being considered. Britain followed this strategy after the defeat of France in 1815. British engagement in the Concert of Europe and the Quadruple Alliance foreclosed any French delusions of grandeur. France was a respected member of the Concert (which maintained order in Europe), thus ameliorating its defeat, but the Quadruple Alliance of the former enemies of France left no doubt that, while respected, France was only one power amongst equals. Again, therefore, the fundamental premise of British cooperation with France in the Concert was predicated upon containment of France itself, rather than a tilt towards France and against its weaker Continental opponents. The Obama- Biden administrations, however, have been tilting towards the potentially hegemonic Iran.

The strategy of “integration” therefore fails to correspond with any traditional policy of a serious Great Power. The essence of the political is “the distinction between friend and enemy.” Iran, supported by Russia and China, seeks to fracture the Sunni- Israeli alliance by knocking Israel out as a power to be taken seriously. Hamas is Iran’s pawn. Allies, enemies, and neutrals are watching. If Israel, humiliated and insulted, fails to utterly crush Hamas, the Saudis, Emiratis, and others will have to reconsider their options, for if Israel cannot summon the will to even protect and avenge its own violated women and children, what use is it as an ally in a deadly struggle? Iran, the potential hegemon would wax in strength, confidence, and ambition. And if the United States hobbles Israel’s response, then what use is it, either, as an ally? If we cripple Israel’s response out of faux- liberal pieties (which nobody in that region takes seriously as our real motives), and simultaneously enable Iran to acquire the money that finances their aggression and nuclear ambitions, then, as a Great Power in the Middle East, sooner or later, we are done. The reverberations would be felt in Europe, Asia, and eventually, our own hemisphere.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

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