from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

Our New Ally Iran?

June 16, 2014

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Will the crisis in Iraq lead to a rapprochement with Iran? Will the effort to strike a nuclear deal expand into a broader agreement?

That is the nightmare of many of our allies in the Middle East, including the Gulf Arab states, Jordan, and Israel. My colleague Max Boot in his blog today explains why it is a dangerous idea to think that we have common interests with the world’s largest state sponsor of terror.  At the Commentary Magazine web site, Max has written "Getting Fooled by Iran in Iraq." Here is an excerpt:

Is it really necessary to point out that letting Iranian forces dominate Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq is a win for Iran–not for the United States?....

Absent a much more active American role to oppose Iranian designs, the mullahs will be able to live out their dreams of regional hegemony at relatively small cost.

Is this actually in America’s interest because Iran as a Shiite nation opposes Sunni extremists? No, because that analysis is far too simplistic....Iran has made common cause in the past with Sunni extremists in Hamas, the Taliban, and al-Qaeda, among others. It’s true that Iran doesn’t want to see ISIS or the Nusra Front, another al-Qaeda-affiliated group, dominate Iraq or Syria. But that’s because it would like to see those states dominated by its own proxies who are every bit as bad....

This is not an outcome remotely in American interests....the increasing Iranian prominence will only drive Sunnis, who constitute the region’s vast majority, into greater militancy. Do you honestly think Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE will stand by and watch Iran and its stalking horses take control of Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon? Not a chance.

While some may take satisfaction from Sunni and Shiite extremists clashing, the problem is that they could both win–i.e., both sides could gain control of significant territory which will then become terrorist states. That is what has already happened in Syria and it is now likely to happen in Iraq as well. While the Iranians would prefer obviously that ISIS not control any territory in Iraq or Syria, they may well be willing to live with some ISIS control if the payoff for them is that their proxies consolidate control over what remains of those two states.

Put bluntly, the U.S. interest is in creating democratic, stable, and pro-Western regimes; the Iranian interest is in creating fundamentalist, terrorist-supporting, Shiite-extremist regimes. There is no overlap of interest except when we make the mistake of backing Iranian-aligned leaders such as Nouri al-Maliki.

There is little to add. The Obama administration has sought a grand rapprochement with Iran, once upon a time called "engagement," since January 2009. Apparently it still does. But the current path leads only to enhancing Iran’s regional power, and to alienating and endangering our own allies in the region. Iran is an enemy of the United States and of our allies in the Middle East, as its own leaders repeat regularly in speeches (in Farsi; the nice op-eds in English don’t say that). To work with Iran to enlarge its influence in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq will further undermine American influence--and not only in the Middle East. Around the world nations dependent on our willingness to recognize and resist Russian and Chinese efforts at hegemony will also be chilled to see such a policy develop.

It was bad enough to see the President decide on a calendar- (and political calendar-) based timetable for withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, ignoring conditions on the ground. To enlist Iran in efforts now to solve problems to which the total withdrawal from Iraq led demonstrates the inability to learn from past errors--or to admit them, or even to recognize the possibility of error. But all the spin the White House can muster will not change the nature of the unfolding disaster in Syria and Iraq.

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