The Obama administration’s decision to negotiate with Tehran triggered near hysteria among U.S. politicians and pundits who advocate perpetual war in the Middle East. One complaint is that the talks were not broad enough. They did not address Iran’s malign intervention throughout the Middle East.
These critics denounced Tehran’s imperial ambitions. For instance, the ever-hawkish Foreign Policy Initiative insisted that “Iran’s drive to dominate the region has been years in the making.” The group warned of Sana’a becoming “the fourth Arab capital to fall under the sway of Tehran.” The Economist put it slightly differently, pointing to Iran’s “strong influence over Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad and Sana’a.”
However, if regional domination is a long-term priority, it is striking how little Tehran has accomplished. Most governments in the region dislike and oppose the Islamic regime. Nor is Iran much of a dominatrix, especially compared to America with its strong influence throughout the entire Persian Gulf and North Africa and in Iraq and Jordan; Saudi Arabia’s equally significant role in the Gulf and Egypt and among Syrian rebels; and Israel’s overwhelming regional military strength.
Tehran’s principal client is war-torn Syria, where the Assad regime’s, and thus Iran’s, reach barely extends to the Damascus suburbs. Tehran enjoys outsize but not overwhelming influence in small, divided Lebanon, where Hezbollah listens to but is not controlled by Iran (and does nothing to threaten America). In Yemen Tehran is loosely connected to a long-time disaffected rebel movement in what amounts to a permanent civil war.
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