Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Iran as Ally

Vali Nasr thinks we should ask for Iran’s help with Russia:

Many have assumed that Russia can help solve the Iran problem, but few have considered that the reverse is also true. Iran is important to Russia’s game plan and how Moscow weighs its options going forward. That makes talking to Iran an essential part of America’s plans for containing Russia.

For Russia, an isolated Iran in conflict with the West is a boon. With Iran’s rich gas reserves off limits, Russia can hold Europe hostage and divide NATO while also creating linkage between its support for international pressure on Iran and Western response to its aggression in the Caucasus.

Washington cannot resist a Russian sphere of influence stretching from the Black Sea to Aral Mountains unless it plays the Iran card to its advantage. That means dropping its objection to the flow of Iranian gas to Europe, and engaging Iran in talks on security and stability of the Caucasus.

To Nasr’s credit, this approach does at least have the benefit of offering Iran an identifiable incentive: gas sales to Europe. This is considerably more realistic than the directionless “common ground” approach. However, the problem with this plan can be found in Nasr’s own words:

This provides the United States with an opportunity. Washington has already understood Iran’s importance to achieving American goals in Afghanistan and Iraq. It engaged Tehran over Afghanistan’s future in 2001 and over Iraq’s security in 2007. The high-stakes game in the Caucasus similarly justifies talking to Iran.

Continuing to consult Iran before we proceed with foreign policy initiatives produces two dangerous results. First, it further emboldens Iran and makes the case for their legitimacy as a world power. The fact that America incorporated Iran as a problem-solver on questions about Afghanistan and Iraq gives credence to the suggestion that we should now engage Iran about Russia. Doing so would make the case for consulting the mullahs on some other future predicament, and so on. This is legitimacy by contrition, and it’s a slippery slope upon which we never should have embarked in the first place. It didn’t start with the present U.S. administration, either. Bill Clinton, for example, conveyed his private assent to Iranian arms sales in the Balkans, hoping it would help turn the tide in the war-torn region. That it did no such thing is my second point.

When we ask for Iranian help on geopolitical challenges, we get headaches. For all our engagement with Tehran about Afghanistan, Iran still protected Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders. For all our engagement with Iran about Iraq, it was the punishment inflicted on Iranian backed militias by American and Iraqi forces that produced a change in behavior. And even now, some of those militias have likely switched from fighting forces to “social service” organizations for reasons of recruitment and stealth. This is because Iran functions more as a radical cause than a state. And that reality has rendered any American diplomatic effort moot since 1979.

Finally, Nasr’s plan is predicated on the notion that an Iran with nuclear weapons is tolerable. If he believes that, why does he so narrowly define our goals in Iran? If we’re going to accept Iranian nukes, we might as well open up relations completely. Let’s trade freely, sell them equipment and technology and all the rest. That Nasr doesn’t suggest this casts suspicion on his premise. It’s clear he understands the potential catastrophe of Iran’s ambitions, and that makes his argument both morally and strategically incoherent.

Nasr frames his case with the claim that “Barack Obama has been right all along.” Not only would it be wrong to engage Iran today for the reasons outlined above, but Obama first pledged to talk to Iran without preconditions over a year ago. The Russian circumstances described by Nasr only came into effect this summer. It would seem to me being “right” should at least take into account the dimension of temporal reality.


Join the discussion…

Are you a subscriber? Log in to comment »

Not a subscriber? Join the discussion today, subscribe to Commentary »





Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.