America’s Middle East Challenges

DENVER – The potential gains from reorienting American foreign policy toward the Asia-Pacific region were fully evident in November. President Barack Obama followed a successful visit to the APEC forum in China with a fruitful stopover in Myanmar to bolster the country’s political transition, before finishing at the G-20’s remarkably productive meeting in Brisbane.

But in the Middle East, where the stakes seem to rise with every passing week, the United States has not experienced smooth sailing. Indeed, there seems to be little consensus on how to move forward.

Consider the Iran nuclear talks, which have just been extended yet again, this time until June 2015. The extension of the deadline for reaching a definitive agreement is a good outcome; the negotiators’ efforts to date should not be in vain. Moreover, thanks to the interim agreement reached almost a year ago, some limitations on Iran’s nuclear program remain in place (with Iran securing some sanctions relief in return).

All sides acknowledged progress toward eliminating Iran’s capacity to achieve a nuclear “breakout,” which would enable it to begin weapons production within a year. The goal of forestalling a breakout, which depends to a great extent on mathematical, technical, and political calculations, seems reachable.