In a Camp David summit meeting Thursday, leaders of Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations will attempt to persuade President Obama to enter into a military agreement to counteract the inevitable consequences of his nuclear weapons deal with Iran. This is their final opportunity to do so before the scheduled June 30 completion of that agreement.
The Arab leaders seek an agreement requiring the United States to “contain” Iran and sell their nations the weapons that could give them a qualitative military advantage over Iran. The containment statement and security agreement they seek would be a formal memorandum of understanding on regional security but, according to a Financial Times report, “something short of a treaty.”
It’s hard to see how the Arabs could come away with anything like that which they seek because Mr. Obama’s goals conflict directly with the Arabs’.
Last month, Mr. Obama spoke in support of the Iran deal, denying the legitimacy of the case made by the deal’s critics. He said, “What is a more relevant fear would be that in Year 13, 14, 15, they have advanced centrifuges that enrich uranium fairly rapidly, and at that point, the breakout times would have shrunk almost down to zero.” The “breakout time” is the time that Iran would take between deciding to build nuclear weapons and actually doing it.
As Vice President Joseph R. Biden said, “[The Iranians] have already paved a path to a bomb’s worth of material” and — if Iran walked away from the current negotiations without a deal — it could have nuclear weapons in two or three months.
By American actions in the negotiations, French diplomats — also participants — reportedly believe Mr. Obama desires to replace Saudi Arabia with Iran so that Iran’s nuclear force would stabilize the Middle East under Iran’s hegemony.
It’s entirely clear, from the president’s and vice president’s statements, that Mr. Obama’s nuclear agreement will ensure that Iran will have nuclear weapons in not more than 15 years. Regardless of the time period, it’s impossible — by any stretch of logic or imagination — to enable Iran to obtain nuclear weapons and at the same time guarantee its containment.
Shiite Iran is on one side of Islam’s religious war, and Sunni Arabs are on the other. It’s a conflict that has been going on for 14 centuries, and it will continue as long as there is a schism in Islam.
Iran is backing forces — such as the Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen and Bashar Assad’s Alewite (a form of Shiism) regime in Syria — that our Arab allies are either unwilling or incapable of dealing with. The Arabs’ attempts to defeat these forces, such as the so far ineffective Saudi campaign against the Houthis, remain so because the Arab nations refuse to commit sufficient air and ground forces long enough to do the job.
The Arabs’ idea to obtain Mr. Obama’s guarantee to contain Iran is risible. Iran will, for as long as its theocratic regime remains in power, continue to fight that religious war. An American guarantee of containment would be a promise of sufficient military force to destroy Iran’s nuclear and conventional capabilities.
If the Arab nations want us to provide them with a qualitative advantage over Iran’s soon-to-be-manufactured nuclear arsenal, how could that be done without providing masses of ballistic missile and anti-missile systems as well as nuclear weapons to deter Iranian aggression? Simply put, it can’t.
Mr. Obama’s refusal of the Arab nations’ plea for security guarantees will have the clearly foreseeable consequence of creating yet another power vacuum that other American adversaries will fill eagerly. Russia is ready and willing — despite its strong support for Iran — to play both sides. China — which has played a lesser role in the Middle East — could do so even more easily. China is fairly desperate for the oil that Iran produces, but the promise of Arab oil in sufficient quantity, taken from other customer nations’ supplies, could be the answer to the Chinese economy’s huge oil thirst. Its military industries would benefit (as would Russia’s) enormously from the billions of dollars to be paid in pursuit of an Arab qualitative military advantage.
In either case, American power and influence in the Middle East is being withdrawn in favor of Iran’s by Mr. Obama’s nuclear weapons pact. And — again in either case — the coming Middle East arms race will mean even greater instability in the region (if that’s even possible, given Iran’s certain path to nuclear weapons).
Arab nations’ fears of Iran could be partially counterbalanced by the right sort of agreement with them. Such an agreement would promise American support for their defense, but not in the manner of the NATO treaty. NATO’s promise of mutual military defense has become meaningless because every NATO member — with the exception of the United States — has refused to invest more than a token amount in its own defense, rendering the organization incapable of action. An agreement that makes American guarantees contingent on Arab nations making peace with Israel and investing in the proper military assets could have a positive effect.
Part of the Sunni-Shiite religious war is a geopolitical conflict, which Shiite Iran is winning. Mr. Obama should agree to take sides against Iran in terms that would require it to invest — and act — in its own defense before America would do so. It may be possible to provide the Arab nations with a qualitative (but non-nuclear) military advantage, but only if Mr. Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran is abandoned and Israel’s security is specifically assured.
• Jed Babbin served as a deputy undersecretary of defense in the George H.W. Bush administration. He is a senior fellow of the London Center for Policy Research and the author of five books, including “In the Words of Our Enemies.”