Our Savior, Iran

“Americans would feel much more comfortable in Tehran than in Riyadh,” writes Robert Kaplan. (Photo: Mohammadali F. / Flickr Commons)

“Americans would feel much more comfortable in Tehran than in Riyadh,” writes Robert Kaplan. (Photo: Mohammadali F. / Flickr Commons)

In an Atlantic article titled Warming to Iran, Robert Kaplan, the controversial author and commentator on global affairs, writes that “multiple necessities have been driving the United States and Iran toward a détente of sorts.” In fact

… the American-Iranian estrangement, which has gone on a decade longer than America’s estrangement from “Red China” did, is anomalous in international relations, given how many amoral geopolitical interests the two nations share.

What about the objections of U.S. allies Israel and Saudi Arabia to friendlier relations between Iran and the United States? Kaplan writes that the “idea that the interests of Israel, even with Saudi Arabia alongside it, can indefinitely or even permanently override some degree of reconciliation between the United States and Iran” is “problematic.”

 Yes, Israel’s domestic lobbying machine is formidable, and yes, Israel’s prime minister is by some accounts a determined schemer, but they may not ultimately be able to prevent the American executive branch from seizing the kind of diplomatic opportunity that comes along only a few times a century.

Making détente urgent, Kalan writes, is “the increasingly tense military standoff in maritime Asia.” There is “no more efficient way” to reduce America’s “granular involvement in the conflicts of the Middle East,” in order to focus on  maritime Asia, than to “enter into a strategic understanding with Iran.”

How exactly would that work?

The United States needs Shia Iran to fight the extremist Sunnis of the Islamic State, and at the same time to pressure the Shia government in Baghdad to moderate its posture toward the Sunnis, in the name of internal stability in Iraq. Should the unhelpful Islamic government in Turkey grow more intractable, Iran could also prove helpful in balancing against it. … In addition, Iran and the United States could potentially work in tandem in Syria to preserve the political power of the country’s ruling Alawites—the Alawite sect being an offshoot of Shia Islam—even as they work together to remove President Bashar al-Assad from power. Furthermore, Iran could help steady neighboring Afghanistan in the wake of an American troop withdrawal, by serving as a buffer against pro-Taliban Pakistani and Saudi elements.

What about the aforementioned Israel and Saudi Arabia?

Nor should ending our belligerence toward Shia Iran mean deserting our Sunni allies in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Persian Gulf, and elsewhere. We must go to great lengths to reassure them, in fact.

Kaplan concludes:

The more the United States and Iran coordinate with each other, the less chance there is that America will have to put additional boots on the ground in the Middle East. If the United States is serious about the pivot to Asia, its objective should be to get regional powers, including Iran, to carry the burden of stabilizing Syria and Iraq.

Kaplan is often criticized for being an apologist for all things neo (cons and liberal), but he often makes sense, such as in this piece, which I urge all to read. He’s totally convincing in making détente with Iran sound like the definition of win-win.