The present U.S. administration’s policy toward Saudi Arabia’s unelected crown-prince mirrors the 25-year relationship the U.S. had with the unelected shah of Iran. For decades, European and American powers have utilized Middle Eastern dictators to secure oil resources and sell military hardware.
That destructive path was altered in 2015 when President Obama signed the nuclear deal with Iran, a non-proliferation treaty that capped Iran’s nuclear power in return for economic engagement with its civil society. The deal chartered a new path for the U.S. and the Middle East by promoting de-militarization in return for economic growth.
But only a year into the accord, President Trump unilaterally violated the international treaty and returned U.S. policy to its decades-long campaign of weaponization and economic sanctions in the region.
In 1953, the U.S. government, with the support of hardline ayatollahs, overthrew Iran’s democracy and placed the unelected and unqualified shah into power.
After 25 years of U.S. weapons sales that solidified the shah’s dictatorial rule and guaranteed oil reserves for America, the ayatollahs who had come to power with the shah turned on the isolated monarch and took over the country.
Today, with the help of Wahhabi Islamic fundamentalists, the U.S. has brought a new unelected prince to absolute power in neighboring Saudi Arabia.
Unfortunately, it isn't hard to predict that soon, like the ayatollahs, the Wahhabis, who have flourished under a weak kingdom, could overtake the Saudi monarchy and unleash an Islamic revolution that will further trigger their militant groups, such as al Qaeda.
The decades of U.S. weapons sales to Saudi Wahhabis directly led to the formation of al Qaeda, enabling their attack on U.S. soil on 9/11 that ignited the devastating Iraq War; a war that has caused 500,000 civilians deaths and wasted $6 trillion in U.S. taxpayer dollars.
Today, U.S. arms sales to the unelected Saudi prince have helped create the world's worst humanitarian crisis in the ongoing killing and starvation of hundreds of thousands of Yemenis.
Even more alarming, if this administration’s seeming end goal in the Middle East is reached — military confrontation with Iran — it would cost thousands of innocent American lives and trillions more in taxpayer dollars.
The Obama administration envisioned the Iran deal as an alternative to this destructive path. Many supporters of the deal believed that it had the ambitious potential of igniting a “Marshall Plan” for the Middle East.
By promoting de-weaponization and strengthening civil society through trade, the deal could empower the region's middle-class populations to check their authoritarian governments and engage their neighbors with economic tools rather than weapons.
The opponents of the deal in Washington, some of whom prosper from weapon sales in the region, argued that its economic incentives would only strengthen hardline fundamentalists in Iran. This talking point has been repeatedly disproven over the past 40 years.
The fundamentalist factions of Iran’s government have only been strengthened by the decades of U.S. economic sanctions. These authoritarian powers have enriched themselves and enhanced their political hold through the unchecked black markets created by U.S. sanctions and war.
The battered-but-still-standing Iran deal, which has also been fervently opposed by Iranian fundamentalists, can change the power dynamic in favor of Iran’s civil society.
More importantly, the deal can be a catalyst for a new U.S. policy toward the greater Middle East. A policy that promotes the regional economy in agriculture, tech and green energy rather than through oil and weapon sales.
For this new era to begin, the U.S. should reconsider its futile support of an unelected prince and return to the Iran deal. To do so, the new Congress and fresh candidates for the 2020 presidential election should draft policies and campaign for a return to the strongest non-proliferation treaty of the past 30 years.
America’s new leaders should promote the economic and security benefits of the deal for the United States while bravely charting the path for a new "Marshall Plan” in the Middle East. It's a plan to rebuild war-torn regions, remove trade barriers, modernize industry and improve prosperity.
These are all powerful tools that will strengthen U.S. security while defeating self-serving monarchs and dark-age fundamentalists.
Farshad Farahat is a member of the board of directors of Ploughshares Fund, a public grantmaking foundation that supports initiatives to prevent the spread and use of nuclear weapons. He's an Iranian-American actor who co-starred in the Academy Award-winning film "Argo."