Mixed messages on Iran

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In Yemen last week, Saudi Arabia launched air strikes against Houthi rebels. U.S. intelligence aided the Saudis. The Shiite Houthis are backed by Iran. In Iraq, meanwhile, the United States has joined Iran to beat back the nascent Sunni-run caliphate known as the Islamic State. And in Switzerland, international negotiations with Iran over its nuclear development program, led by the United States and five partners, were supposed to produce an agreement on Tuesday.

American policy toward Iran is confusing and has been a headache for U.S. allies, including Israel. These are the same allies that have voiced concern that the outcome of a tilt toward Iran in nuclear negotiations will be a “bad deal” that leaves Iran a year away from building a bomb. Saudi Arabia hints that such a “bad deal” could set off a regional nuclear arms race. Israel says Iran should be stopped at any cost.

At the same time, American caution in the region — such as its reluctance to become involved in the multiparty civil war in Syria and its refusal to respond proportionately to increases in Iranian meddling — has also been cause for criticism. “U.S. promises and reassurances that it would train and arm moderate Syrian opposition have yet to materialize,” the Saudi-backed Arab News complained last month. “The U.S. is saying all the right things, but its actions do not live up to that rhetoric.”

It is difficult to understand how America can be both Iran’s negotiating partner and its opponent in ongoing warfare. This dichotomy is well noted among our allies. They see Tehran’s regional proxies — Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Assad regime in Syria, Shiite militias in Iraq, Hamas in Gaza and the Houthi rebels in Yemen — as regional threats that must be defeated. And they want U.S. help to do so.

So what will come from America’s mixed messages on Iran? It can’t bode well for our country’s standing in the Middle East and could limit the ability of Washington to solve future world conflicts such as in Eastern Europe and Africa. But perhaps the regional discomfort created by the uncertainty will force the moderate Arab world to unite in a way that enables them to determine their own destiny. In the face of American inaction and/or confusion, it falls to our friends in the Middle East to stand up for themselves and to bring order to their region

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