The Middle East and North Africa: Dimensions and Challenges | Opinion

Ukraine proves that America cannot separate itself from the world. Contrary to the cant leveled against the Trump administration, I knew no senior official who embraced isolationism, for it does grave damage to America's security.

The Middle East and North Africa, known as MENA, have been central to world geopolitics. Too often, however, America has looked at MENA, or the countries that comprise it, in isolation.

Russia's war against Ukraine has exposed the sinews of global economic and energy security. Russia's war has shown that without American leadership and energy dominance, the world may be held hostage by a dictator bent on conquest.

The loss of American energy dominance entails great personal costs: stratospheric oil and natural gas prices. The inflation this creates also threatens the world's food supplies, for natural gas is used to make essential ammonia-based fertilizers.

Accepting that we live in a world that is linked in countless ways requires that we discern this fabric and what it portends. The Biden administration is reportedly close to its realization of an updated Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly referred to as the Iran nuclear deal.

In JCPOA negotiations in Vienna, Iran refuses to face the American delegation directly. Russia has thus served as Iran's handmaiden. Yes, Russia. The Biden administration informs us that this chain of interrelations is beneficial, for Russia seeks a non-nuclear Iran. This is almost certainly not true.

As the director of the Central Intelligence Agency and later as secretary of state, I was privy to planning that involved a range of plausible scenarios concerning strategic issues. Today, we must ask what Russia might plan, given its losses in Ukraine and the crippling sanctions the world has levied upon it.

Putin may be unstable, but he is not stupid. He has observed the world through a dictator's eyes for decades. Thus, I believe that Russia will turn the JCPOA, should it be brought back to life, into a vehicle that will transform Russia's defeat in Ukraine into a wider victory.

In my estimation, Putin will propose the following deal with Iran. Russia will push the new JCPOA across the finish line with a proviso to which only Iran's leadership is intended to be privy, though it may be surmised.

In exchange for delivering the agreement, Russia will obligate Iran to turn over to the Kremlin and its cutouts a portion of the billions Iran will get from the United States and other nations in sanctions relief. This will allow Moscow to pursue its irredentist objectives, which will further destabilize former Soviet republics in Eastern Europe.

Russia, in turn, will fudge its receipt of enriched uranium from Iran, for this is reportedly the agreement's supposed mechanism to thwart Iran's completion of a nuclear weapon. Through this mechanism of deceit or through other machinations with Russia, propelled by the revived JCPOA, Iran will get enriched uranium to build its bombs. Russia will get hard, convertible currency for its war machine. And America pays the tab for both.

America's relations with Saudi Arabia and with the United Arab Emirates are now fraught. Movement on the Abraham Accords, which ushered in the normalization of relations between Israel and four Arab nations, is now extraordinarily difficult, for Saudi Arabia and its Arab neighbors detest weakness—as displayed in our calamitous retreat from Afghanistan.

Men blow shofars (traditional Jewish religious instrument
Men blow shofars (traditional Jewish religious instrument made of ram's horn) during Israel's Expo 2020 Dubai National Day in the gulf emirate on January 31, 2022. KARIM SAHIB/AFP via Getty Images

Saudi Arabia and other energy-producing states are already tethered to Russia through OPEC+. Given the foregoing and the rise of Iran as a nuclear power, we may see the rise of another stratagem.

Facing a nuclear Iran that is Shiite, Saudi Arabia and perhaps other Sunni Arab states will seek to obtain their own nuclear weapons at breakneck speeds. Who will supply these nations? Not the United States. Russia could deliver such nuclear materials—possibly in league with China.

Russia would thus influence both sides of the geostrategic power dynamic in MENA—and, with it, world energy supplies. Instability of an unmatched degree may grant Russia a great victory, for the Kremlin will play Iran against the Sunni Arab states.

This is one plausible scenario: How do we contest it, as well as others? First, embrace Israel as the linchpin of peace in the Middle East; second, move expeditiously to the attainment of American energy independence and dominance, for only this provides the strength we require to stabilize MENA; third, mend relations with the Sunni Arab Gulf states, and embrace them as the allies they wish to be; last, run from the talks in Vienna, which Iran and Russia have orchestrated.

America must not become a signatory to the JCPOA. For if it does, our nation will almost certainly be compelled, by the terms of the accord, to remove the murderous Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)—an Iranian military branch—from the Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) list, which I oversaw as secretary of state. It is now criminal to knowingly provide "material support or resources" to the IRGC.

If the Biden administration does remove the IRGC from the FTO list in order to resurrect the JCPOA, it will bypass the clear intent of Congress and undercut our law by aiding Iran, which controls the IRGC. The Biden administration will act in an extra-constitutional manner, for the JCPOA should properly be considered a treaty, which requires the concurrence of a Senate supermajority. President Biden knows such a supermajority will never happen, so he is intent on circumventing numerous laws to the point of breaking them.

The JCPOA must be blocked by Congress, for it represents an existential threat to Israel and to broader peace in the Middle East. No dictatorial state can be allowed to become the dominant power in MENA. With its inevitable defeat in Ukraine, we must ensure Russia does not realize a greater victory, for this would destabilize another region of the world that deserves peace.

Michael R. Pompeo served as the 70th secretary of state of the United States, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency and was elected to four terms in Congress representing Kansas' 4th District. He is currently a distinguished fellow at the Hudson Institute.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.

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