The challenge posed to the United States by Iran is so difficult and complex a problem that even the Trump administration is somewhat divided on how to proceed. While some officials are inclined to treat Tehran as if it is in compliance with the terms of the nuclear “deal” struck under Obama and still in effect, others, including Trump himself, believe the spirit of the agreement has been cast aside, and doubt it ever should have been put in place to begin with.
No matter the gravity of the situation within Iran, however, an even more immediate concern is what the mullahs are doing to worsen America’s strategic situation through conventional, not nuclear, arms. As our Mideast allies have warned in the past, the progressive destruction of ISIS has opened a potentially powerful power vacuum into which Iran and its own allies, including top international terror group Hezbollah, can quickly flow. Despite disagreement over how best to tackle the nuclear dimension of Iran’s aims, officials ought to agree on a concerted response to events on the ground.
Iran has long coveted a land bridge to Lebanese Hezbollah and the Assad regime in Syria. Not only would the connection instantly elevate its strategic position against its Arab rivals, driving a wedge between them and Turkey. It would also provide a secure and capacious corridor for flowing arms and materiel against Israel — making life more difficult for cornerstone Sunni states like Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia that have moved toward greater reconciliation with the Jewish state. Finally, the geopolitical change would at last remove one of Iran’s old threats from the chessboard: Iraq, the majority-Shiite Arab nation that has flipped since Saddam from implacable enemy to tacit, or more than tacit, ally.
In sum, across the Mideast, wherever the United States wants to preserve the status quo, Iran wants to upset it, and wherever the United States wants something to change, Iran wants it to deepen.
There is, of course, the lone exception of the destruction of ISIS.
“Most non-ISIS powers — including Shia Iran and the leading Sunni states — agree on the need to destroy it,” as Henry Kissinger recently wrote in a sort of public memo to the White House. “But which entity is supposed to inherit its territory? A coalition of Sunnis? Or a sphere of influence dominated by Iran? The answer is elusive because Russia and the NATO countries support opposing factions. If the ISIS territory is occupied…