October 26, 2021


3660425408_743a5f2009_oToday is the dawn of a new era in the Middle East. The United States of America has publicly endorsed its former enemy, the Islamic Republic of Iran, in its quest for regional dominance. Our Jewish and Arab friends look on in horror.

Thinking about this deal reminds me of when Hassan Rouhani, the President of Iran, logged onto his Twitter account a couple weeks ago to launch yet another harangue on the Western powers who were conspiring against him. Although I had long grown accustomed to Rouhani’s Twitter rants, this one took me by surprise:

Iran will be committed to the #nuclear agreement if & only if our counterparts show the same level of commitment. #IranTalksVienna #Loyalty
I wasn’t surprised that Rouhani would attack the West on social media. Nor was I surprised that he was already finding ways to get out of a nuclear deal.

What did surprise me, however, was his use of the word loyalty — a word typically used to describe a special bond between long-time friends. It seemed a bit out of place given the Pentagon’s just-released 2015 National Military Strategy (not to mention another damning assessment of Iran in the State Department’s latest human rights report):

Iran…poses strategic challenges to the international community. It is pursuing nuclear and missile delivery technologies despite repeated United Nations Security Council resolutions demanding that it cease such efforts. It is a state-sponsor of terrorism that has undermined stability in many nations, including Israel, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. Iran’s actions have destabilized the region and brought misery to countless people while denying the Iranian people the prospect of a prosperous future.
The idea that the United States would feel loyalty toward an intolerant theocracy that propagates terrorism and chaos around the world is absurd.

But Rouhani got one thing right, and for that I give him credit: loyalty matters in the Middle East, especially right now.

Unfortunately, our current policy is based on rejecting friends and embracing enemies — not the best recipe for securing our regional interests. But a good way to stay irrelevant in the Middle East for years to come.

EVERYONE IN THE MIDDLE EAST is asking the same question today: Who can we trust?

Four years ago the Arab Spring pushed the region into deadly tailspin from which it still hasn’t recovered. People are scared of their leaders; leaders are scared of their people; Sunnis are scared of Shi’is; Shi’is are scared of Sunnis; Christians are scared of everyone.

Things got even worse when our allies – Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf States – realized that we had switched teams and joined Iran.

President Obama clearly believed Iran was the better bet. But for countries who had spent years guiding their countries down paths we’d set for them, this flip-flop was a humiliating slap in the face. As the US rolled back its presence in the region, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard took up our place with aplomb. American rhetoric on democracy and human rights was shown to be nothing more than sounding brass. America would abandon its allies when it was convenient, caring little for what the subsequent vacuum would attract.

Scorned and afraid, Middle Eastern leaders scrambled to choose new teams. When ISIS showed up, it was no surprise that many Sunnis endorsed it. ISIS was strong, ISIS was defending their interests, and so long as the US stayed out and Iran continued to expand, ISIS was better than nothing.

The lesson was clear to everyone: the region had to fend for itself. Yet while the lesson was clear, the future was not. It had become a war of all against all, and nothing was certain.

ALLIANCES BETWEEN STATES are the fundamental cornerstone of international relations. Central to those alliances are promises, and central to those promises are the keeping of promises. God himself used a pattern of promise-making and -keeping when dealing with his human subjects.

America has a long history of making alliances. In most of them, we have shown ourselves steadfast and loyal. Recently, however, we have acquired the reputation of a fair-weather flake: whimsical, bored, and impetuous.

This isn’t just a question of reputation; it’s a question of preservation. States crave order. Alliances strengthen order. Broken alliances undermine order and cause feelings of betrayal which, in turn, set off a mad scramble as states rush to secure new allies to help stave off the yawning void. In today’s Middle East, states will do what they can to survive even if it means getting behind ISIS. Or Assad. Or Russia. As Lee Smith has pointed out, Arabs will look for the strong horse.

That doesn’t mean Arab feelings of betrayal should drive American foreign policy. But when those feelings stand to increase chaos and bloodshed, we need to pay attention. And whether we think so or not, that chaos and bloodshed will eventually land on our shores.

Establishing and maintaining durable friendships is the best strategy for restoring order to the region, and for ensuring that the problems of the Middle East don’t get any further.

FRIENDSHIP IS A FITTING COMPROMISE between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of man. It typifies the loving spirit that animates Christianity yet retains the self-interested attitude needed for statecraft in a fallen world. It strives for virtue in the context of relationship yet remains wary of those outside the circle who wish to do us harm.

One of the essential aspects of phileo, the Greek work for fraternal love, is the tendency of friends to exclude those outside their circle. However, Christians who have been taught to practice agape needn’t feel guilty that our country befriends some countries and rejects others. States don’t do agape. That’s the church’s job.

The United States government is tasked with protecting its citizens and our interests abroad. It should reserve its loyalty for those countries who share our worldview and our desire for liberty.

Iran is not such a country, and doesn’t deserve our loyalty. And the American people should remember that as they set out to analyze the president’s deal and give it the comeuppance it finally deserves.