Commentary Magazine


Cutting the Gordian Knot

President Barack Obama is not likely to negotiate Iran’s nuclear weapons program and support for Hamas and Hezbollah out of existence with men like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ali Khamenei. It is insanely not in the regime’s interest to abrogate its status as a mini regional superpower without being forced. A democratic Iranian government would almost certainly cease and desist its toxic support for terrorist organizations and fascist political movements abroad, but it also wouldn’t likely give up its power to shape the Middle East. Powerful countries with quasi-imperial ambitions do not transform themselves into Belgium without something catastrophic happening first.

What Robert Kaplan wrote about Iran in Foreign Policy recently will most likely apply to a liberalized Iran as much as it does to a Khomeinist Iran. “Of all the shatter zones in the greater Middle East,” he wrote, “the Iranian core is unique: The instability Iran will cause will not come from its implosion, but from a strong, internally coherent Iranian nation that explodes outward from a natural geographic platform to shatter the region around it.”

I spoke to Kaplan in Washington last week before Iran’s election and its tumultuous aftermath. A moderate Iran, he said, will be “an incredibly attractive power. And then we will really see a greater Iran. Iranian influence will increase with a more moderate regime for cultural reasons. Because of the soft power of Persian culture.”

A more liberal Iran could also transform the region by kneecapping terrorist armies created and funded by the current regime.

Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt understands very well that his country’s Hezbollah problem can only be resolved, at least in the short term, by Iran. “The solution is not in Lebanon,” he told me. “The solution is in Tehran.”

Nothing like this will happen while Khamenei and Ahmadinejad rule, and it might not happen if Mir Hossein Mousavi ends up in the saddle. The Khomeinist regime spent years and millions of dollars to acquire its hard power assets in the Middle East, and it’s on the brink of acquiring the greatest hard power asset of all – a nuclear weapon. Offers of economic incentives and normal relations with this gang in return for their voluntary amputation of overseas instruments of power like Hezbollah is, I’m sorry to say, wishful thinking. For thirty years they have made it abundantly clear that they would rather rule a poor but powerful, confrontational, and ideological nation than a prosperous and moderate one.

President Obama has his choice of bad and worse options with the current regime, but an internal overthrow may well cut the Gordian Knot and resolve a host of problems all by itself. There may not be much he can do to hasten the process along or boost the odds of it happening, but it’s what he should hope for. It’s what we all ought to hope for right now.

Paul Berman said it best years ago in the final two sentences of his book Terror and Liberalism. “Freedom for others means safety for ourselves. Let us be for the freedom of others.”