With the belief that Iran’s nuclear weapons program constituted the greatest threat to U.S. interests in the Middle East, Barack Obama entered the White House hoping to achieve a historic reconciliation with the Islamic Republic. But the administration’s current policies throughout the region suggest that the White House no longer sees Iran as the key problem. Rather, it views the clerical regime as a potential partner, particularly when it comes to combating Sunni extremists like al Qaeda and ISIS. As Obama has explained in several interviews, the Iranian regime, while problematic, represents a real nation-state and rational actor that looks out for its interests and responds to incentives—which is not the case for non-state actors.
The White House has re-prioritized American strategy in the Middle East. Its policies in Syria and Iraq demonstrate that it now sees groups like al Qaeda and ISIS—rather than Iran—as the key threat to American interests. The question is whether the Obama administration has got it right. And if it’s wrong, what are the likely consequences?
On August 14th, Hudson Institute Senior Fellow Lee Smith moderated an expert panel featuring Michael Doran, Hillel Fradkin, and Brian Katulis to discuss whether non-state Sunni extremism or Iran constitutes the major strategic threat to American interests in the region.