Middle East Notes and Comment: Iran Will Still Be a Slog

Iran Will Still Be A Slog 

Even if the logic of the Trump administration’s policy toward Iran were sound, it didn’t work. Amid what the administration hailed as a “maximum pressure” campaign, Iran summoned its own maximum resistance strategy. The Iranian government remained in power, it began enriching large amounts of uranium to much higher concentrations, it continued to develop long-range missiles, and it increased its involvement in the politics of surrounding states.

While the Biden administration has committed to pursuing a different policy, it may not be able to achieve different outcomes. The more the administration pursues the Iranians, the more the Iranians will pull back, in a bid to increase their leverage. Yet, the more the United States pulls back, the more the Iranians will try to force the United States to engage. We should not expect an easy return to negotiations, whatever the Biden team wants, and we should not anticipate that a supposedly wounded Iran will capitulate. Instead, we should anticipate a drawn-out process punctuated by crisis. There probably isn’t a better path forward. 

Read Jon Alterman's commentary on the CSIS website.

From the Middle East Program

New Analysis

Jon wrote a short explainer on the end of the 2017 embargo against Qatar. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt announced they would lift the blockade in return for Doha dropping a slew of cases against those states in international courts. Jon analyzes why the embargo ended and the consequences this decision could have. Read Jon's Critical Questions here.

In late December, Jon wrote a commentary on how if the Biden administration changes U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, both U.S. allies and enemies will change their policies too. The result will affect U.S. interests in the Middle East and around the world. Watch here as Jon and other CSIS experts speak about critical issues facing the United States and the world in the next year.

Babel: Translating the Middle East

In the most recent episode of Babel, Jon spoke with Issandr El Amrani,  regional director for the MiddleEast/North Africa region at the Open Society Foundation. Issandr talked to Jon about how political trends across the Middle East have unfolded in the ten years since the Arab Spring. He also gave his thoughts on what trends people should be watching going forward.

In another episode, Jon talked with Elfatih Eltahir, professor of hydrology and climate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, about climate change and rising temperatures across the Middle East. Professor Eltahir explained what 'wet bulb' temperature means, and why governments should plan future cities away from the coast in order to cope with extreme heat. 

We also released three new mezze episodes: one on secondhand food markets in Egypt, one on women in the auto industry, and one on nostalgia for Saddam Hussein.

In the News

Natasha Hall told Voice of America that the Biden administration will find it difficult to return to the JCPOA.  “Building back that trust with Iranian leaders is going to be quite difficult without some kind of back-channel negotiations, or even a symbolic sort of compensation for what's happened with the sanctions." (12/22/20).