U.S. Policy Toward Iran: Strategic Options
Report of the Task Force on Managing Disorder in the Middle East
Iran’s commitment to spreading its influence by means of local proxies, predominantly within Shiite communities, has contributed to sectarian radicalization and has deepened regional conflicts.
The most aggressive option, rollback would keep regime/Iranian forces away from the borders of Turkey, Israel, and Jordan—all U.S. allies. This would involve renewed pressure on Iran’s presence in Syria by U.S.-supported proxies and direct U.S. military action where necessary. Rollback would also involve a concerted push to check Iranian military power in Iraq through support of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Iraqi Sunnis, and anti-Iranian Shiite actors. Finally, it would involve highlighting the regime’s domestic vulnerabilities in order to undermine its capacity for regional power projection and show solidarity with Iranians seeking democratic change.
Containment would involve defending U.S. gains in eastern Syria and using that foothold to provide a credible deterrent and clear redlines against Iran using Syria as a base to launch attacks against U.S. allies. In Iraq, containment would entail continued political support for the Abadi government in order to encourage its independence from Tehran as well as attempts to gain control of Shiite militias and a robust effort to reconcile Baghdad and Erbil.
Modus vivendi would be a form of tense coexistence based on translating U.S. leverage into a diplomatic outcome that de-escalates the conflict among Syria, Iran, and Russia, on the one hand, and Syrian Sunnis rebels and Kurds on the other. The United States would build on this foundation to support a regional modus vivendi that would involve an uneasy balance of power between Iran and the Sunni Arab states. Ultimately, this approach would be predicated on the idea that, with the right mix of pressure and incentives, Iran would accept a more limited but recognized role in the region that is not fundamentally threatening to the interests of the United States and its allies.
- The Economist. “Donald Trump intends to take on Iran. Right, but Risky.” February 25, 2017.
- Alex Shashkevich. “US Wants Peace, Stability in Syria, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says in policy speech at Stanford.” Stanford University. January 18, 2018.
- Eric Cortellessa. “In Mike Pompeo, Trump taps an Iran hawk whose views dovetail with his own.” The Times of Israel. March 13, 2018.
- Dehlia Nehme and Roberta Rampton. “Trump Says ‘Big Price to Pay’ for Syria Chemical Attack.” Reuters. April 7, 2018.
- BBC. “Syria Air Strikes: US and allies attack ‘chemical weapons’ facilities.” April 14, 2018.
- BBC. “Julie H. Davis. “Trump drops push for immediate withdrawal of troops from Syria.” The New York Times. April 4, 2018” April 14, 2018.