Throughout the 21st century, and perhaps earlier as well, the United States has repeatedly missed the Middle East’s most significant developments. With President Trump’s recent ultimatum on the Iran nuclear deal, it risks doing so again.
The illicit nuclear program that should have been of grave concern in 2003 was Iran’s, not Iraq’s. The predations of a power-hungry regime dividing its people and driving its country to civil war in 2011 that should have raised alarms were those of Tehran-backed Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, not Mohammed Morsi in Egypt. The transnational force that posed the gravest danger to the Middle East in 2014 was Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its proxies, not the Islamic State.
Now, after 15 years of diverted attention and neglect, the Iranian threat to Middle Eastern stability and to U.S. interests has become a many-headed hydra that encompasses an ongoing nuclear program, illegal ballistic missile development and international arms shipments, support for terrorism, and brutal repression at home. The challenge for U.S. policymakers is not just confronting these threats, but determining the right order in which to address them.