US President Donald Trump’s new national security team includes an intriguing character in John Bolton, the former American ambassador to the UN who will replace Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster as national security adviser.
Trump’s move, which came just one week after he fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, most likely occurred because the president was seeking to have a unified national security team — a critical point when it comes to having an effective and successful foreign policy. More importantly, one of the top foreign policy agenda items is linked to addressing the Iranian regime and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran nuclear deal. Previously, some significant differences existed, which were too deep to bridge. For example, unlike the president, McMaster and Tillerson were in favor of keeping the nuclear agreement.
Iran has reacted strongly to the new appointments by lashing out at the US and interfering in Washington’s domestic politics. For instance, Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the country’s Supreme National Security Council, called Bolton’s appointment a “matter of shame,” according to Fars News Agency. But the underlying reasons for Iran’s harsh reaction are actually anchored in the regime’s fears.
First of all, Trump’s recent appointment leads to a formation of one of the most determined national security teams in the history of the US when it comes to robustly countering the Iranian regime and its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Iran’s ruling clerics fear that, with the appointment of Bolton and the exit of Tillerson, the national security team is totally in sync with the president regarding precisely what policies ought to be carried out in order to confront Iran’s increasing influence across the Middle East and beyond.
From the perspective of the US national security team, the international community has exhausted diplomacy, negotiations and soft power efforts to change the Iranian regime’s destabilizing behavior, as well as stopping Tehran’s support for terrorist and militia groups across the region. Iran’s direct and indirect militaristic interventions, the supply of illicit weapons to its proxies, and its interference in the domestic affairs of Arab countries continue to escalate on an unprecedented level, particularly in Yemen, Syria and Iraq.
For the first time, both Trump and his national security team agree that the nuclear agreement is flawed because it empowers and emboldens the Iranian regime with the flow of billions of dollars and enhanced global legitimacy.
On the other hand, it is important to point out that such a development does not mean that the Iranian regime will immediately moderate its foreign policies. In fact, based on the almost four-decade history of the ruling clerics, the regime will pursue more aggressive policies in the region in order to project its power in the hope of pressuring the other side to surrender.
It is worth noting that Iranian lawmakers have already announced they will seek to build closer ties with Russia in order to counter the policies of the US and its allies. Closer ties between Tehran and Moscow would allow Iran to be more empowered to intervene in Syria, Yemen and Iraq.
Secondly, the Iranian regime is concerned that the recent changes in the US national security team represent good news for Arab states in the Gulf. This is due to the notion that, not only is Trump’s team now in alignment with the president, but it is also in sync with Arab powers, specifically as both sides view the Iranian regime’s expansionism as a top national security threat.
Such developments have uniquely created a fundamental convergence of interests between Arab powers such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and the US. This could lead to a powerful multilateral force that can transform policies into concrete actions.
As a result, the White House will most likely be focusing on how to cooperate more closely with Arab states in order to counter Iran’s destabilizing behavior and military adventurism in the region.
This multilateral convergence of interests is what the Iranian regime fears because it can tip the regional balance of power against Tehran and its militias, and in favor of the Arab Gulf states.
• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council.
He serves on the boards of the Harvard International Review, the Harvard International Relations Council and the US-Middle East Chamber for Commerce and Business.