Speaking in West Orange, Middle East analyst Patrick Clawson offered a gloomy forecast on Iran.
Clawson, who directs the Iran Security Initiative at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, posited that the Obama administration’s approach to a nuclear deal with Iran is misguided and “overly optimistic.”
“It’s an optimist’s agreement,” he said. “And I have to tell you, the Middle East is not such a great place for optimists, in case you haven’t noticed.”
Clawson spoke to about 60 people gathered for a meeting of the American Jewish Committee, Metro NJ Region, held June 18 at Vizcaya in West Orange.
Clawson said Obama’s approach to Iran ignores America’s traditional allies, instead focusing on “addressing historic grievances” in order to “convert those enemy states into countries we could work together with.” He dismissed Obama’s idea that nuclear negotiations with Iran might create conditions “in which the United States and Iran can have, in limited ways, some cooperation on common causes, such as combatting the Islamic State,” or ISIS.
Acknowledging that the negotiations have slowed Iran’s nuclear program, frozen it in some ways, and reversed it in a couple of areas, Clawson still voiced one major concern: legitimacy.
“There were advantages in Iran being a rogue state,” he said, referring to the United Nations Security Council approach, which said Iran had to show it had purely peaceful intentions, and when it was not living up to its international obligations, had sanctions imposed on the country. Now, Clawson said, “We’re sprinkling holy water” on Iran’s nuclear program. “Iran’s nuclear program has been made legitimate.”
And legitimacy is what Iran is seeking, said Clawson, the Morningstar senior fellow and director of research at WINEP. “The Iranian strategy is not to rush to a bomb, but [to take] little baby steps after little baby steps. They’ve been at it 27 years. They are not in a hurry. Their approach is to get the world used to each little step before taking another.”
If signed, the accord can be salvaged if the United States will station “tens of thousands of troops in the Persian Gulf forever,” “show Iran we are willing to do a lot of things to check their aggressive actions in the region,” and “not close our eyes to even minor infractions.”
Even under the best of circumstances, he predicted, “our allies in the Middle East will go their own way. I don’t think that will lead to a more secure world.”
Clawson also charged the U.S. administration with ignoring traditional alliances.
“For the last 100 years, the basis of United States security has been strong alliances,” he said. “Obama really has not worked that hard at addressing the concerns of our allies. You may think I’m referring to Israel, but Israel is in good company here.” Those allies, he said, include Saudi Arabia, many NATO countries in Europe, and — through the president’s veto of a bill that would have approved construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline — Canada.
Clawson dismissed, almost out of hand, the idea that Iran and the United States could ever work together to combat the Islamic State, saying such cooperation is antithetical to Iran.
“What the Iranians do is combat the [Sunni] Islamic State by fanning the fires of sectarianism among the Shia community. That leads Shia gangs, militias, to carry out sectarian slaughter. And that leads the Sunnis being slaughtered to join the Islamic State. Experts on the Islamic State say the Iranians are the ‘recruiting sergeants’ for the Islamic State.”
He blamed Iran for much of what is wrong in the Middle East, from the devastation of Aleppo, Syria, to strife in Lebanon and Iraq.
The Iranians “undermine states and empower militias. They’ve done it in Lebanon with Hizbullah, Iraq with militias.”
Addressing Israel’s role, Clawson said that unless the context changes dramatically, Israel will not overtly attack Iran’s nuclear program. However, he said, Israel will likely use covert actions.
“Israel will find ways to slow Iran’s nuclear program without openly confronting Iran.” And if the U.S. is smart,” he said, “we will say to Iran, ‘You are not agreeing to everything we want; therefore, we cannot guarantee that Israel will not attack you. We will not allow overt action, but we will not stop covert actions.’
“And I would say to the Israelis, ‘Have at it.’”