Reginald Vachon gave a sobering lecture on America’s foreign policy challenges Wednesday, Nov. 1, to my class at Senior University of Greater Atlanta.
Given his extensive military and international business, academic and engineering experience, as well as his work with several U.S. government agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, the information he shared was timely and highly credible.
Beginning with an overview of the Middle East, the CEO and chairman of Direct Measurements focused on the regional and global interests shared by Russia and Iran. Their common objective is to expel the United States from the region, he said.
The United States wants to persuade Russia to curb the Iranian regime’s ambitions to be the regional hegemon with nuclear weapons in the hope of undermining Saudi Arabia and destroying Israel.
Russia wants to re-establish itself as a superpower and restore the multipolar world of the Cold War, at the expense of the United States and Europe
In Syria, Iran and Russia support the Assad regime against its opponents, Vachon said. Iran wants a secure base from which to support Lebanese Hezbollah and conduct operations against Israel. Russia wants a long-term access to its air and naval bases on the Mediterranean Sea to challenge NATO.
Vachon said Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khamenei, views the continued reign of Bashar al-Assad as a matter of personal honor, but Putin does not.
Iran and Russia also want the United States, especially the U.S. military, out of Iraq and Afghanistan, Vachon said. Tehran is using political parties and militias to pressure the weak government of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi to give way to a pro-Iranian leader. In Afghanistan, Iran and Russia are working with the Taliban and Northern Alliance to establish a stable buffer state without any U.S. role.
At the western edge of Asia, Russia and Iran seek to peel Turkey away from the United States and NATO, though they oppose Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman strategic vision to “reassert Turkish economic, cultural and military dominance over the Middle East,” Vachon said.
They have major economic interests in Turkey as a transit route for natural gas and as a buyer of energy resources.
The United States and Turkey disagree over the role of the Kurds in the Syrian civil war. Turkey sees the Syrian Kurdish YPG as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which is considered a terrorist organization.
Erdogan has shown interest in joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a NATO rival led by Russia and China.
Vachon said Russia and Iran want to accelerate Egypt’s drift away from the United States, Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states. He speculated that Russia likely wants new military bases on the Mediterranean and Red seas to give it control over the Suez Canal.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has voted for Russian initiatives on Syria at the U.N. Security Council and reportedly sent troops to Syria at the request of Russia and Iran, Vachon said.
Russia and Iran diverge on just a few points.
Russia does not “seek to usurp the regional and religious influence of Saudi Arabia and destroy Israel,” as Iran does, Vachon said. Russia seeks a regional balance among Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, as well as a positive relationship with Israel.
But weapons Russia has given to Syria many times have been sent to Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Putin has not protested Iran’s behavior toward Israel.
“Russia seems willing to accept increased tensions with Saudi Arabia and Israel in exchange for its partnership with Iran,” Vachon said
He concluded that “both countries are building a military coalition that can operate across the region, including a potential anti-access, area-denial zone stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf.”
He said Iran is spending the money it has received with the lowering of international sanctions to buy military equipment, especially missiles, and is working with North Korea to advance its nuclear program.
An Iranian proxy in Yemen, the Houthis, are firing on U.S. ships in the Persian Gulf, Vachon said. Noting the displacement of millions of people, he said more than 6 million people are waiting to move into Europe from Africa.