October 31, 2011
By, Vali Nasr
Iran is once again in America’s cross hairs. Even before the allegations of an Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington, concerns about Iran were high, with an impending U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq possibly leading to increased Iranian influence there. U.S. opinion and decision makers are expanding their estimate of Iran’s adventurousness and calling for new containment measures.
In both exercises, there is room for misjudgment. In fact, Iran has not become more ambitious of late; rather, its aspirations have been underestimated. As for attempting to rein in Iran, that could prove both counterproductive and unnecessary.
Until recently, the U.S. government regarded Iran as subdued, weakened and relatively isolated. There was considerable evidence for this view. Iran’s leadership is deeply divided. Its economy is reeling as a result of economic sanctions, which have reduced trade and therefore contact with the Arab world.
What’s more, Iran’s standing in the Middle East appeared to be declining after the Arab Spring. The “Arab street,” once enamored with Iran’s bluster, is now turned off by the country’s suppression of dissent at home and its support for the oppressive Syrian regime. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards are helping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad put down a growing uprising. The possibility of a collapse of the Assad regime threatens to confound Iran’s plans for regional domination. Syria is Iran’s main Arab ally and its conduit for aid to Hezbollah, the militant, Islamist Lebanese group that Iran has used as a proxy to menace Israel, the U.S., Lebanon itself and others.