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Para Pacem
The New Strategic Alignment with Iran

For the past 35 years the Islamic Republic of Iran has been an enemy of the United States, but now, as the Wall Street Journal reports, the United States is cooperating with Iran to an unprecedented degree:

Recent months have ushered in a change as the two countries have grown into alignment on a spectrum of causes, chief among them promoting peaceful political transitions in Baghdad and Kabul and pursuing military operations against Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria, according to these officials.

The Obama administration also has markedly softened its confrontational stance toward Iran’s most important nonstate allies, the Palestinian militant group Hamas and the Lebanese militant and political organization, Hezbollah. American diplomats, including Secretary of State John Kerry , negotiated with Hamas leaders through Turkish and Qatari intermediaries during cease-fire talks in July that were aimed at ending the Palestinian group’s rocket attacks on Israel, according to senior U.S. officials.

U.S. intelligence agencies have repeatedly tipped off Lebanese law-enforcement bodies close to Hezbollah about threats posed to Beirut’s government by Sunni extremist groups, including al Qaeda and its affiliate Nusra Front in Syria, Lebanese and U.S. officials said.

It’s true that you make peace with your enemies, not your friends. But making peace with Iran is not a simple bilateral recognition. It carries with it strategic choices and assumptions that could further destabilize the region and undermine our relationship with key allies. Preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon is a fundamental objective of U.S. strategy, one that should be accomplished, if possible, by diplomatic means. But passing intelligence to Hezbollah, which has killed more Americans than any terrorist group other than al-Qaeda, and cooperating, even tacitly, with the Quds force in Iraq and Syria are separate matters, ones that have serious ramifications for our strategic position in the Middle East.

If those strategic questions were being handled by an adept national security team it might inspire some confidence. But the fact that John Kerry and Wendy Sherman think they’ve outsmarted Qassem Suleimani should raise alarm bells for anyone concerned with U.S. strength and security in the Middle East. When Sherman says “[t]he world is clearly better off now than it would have been if the leaders on both sides had ignored this opening,” it is extremely difficult to see how that is the case. That the Shi’a militias are being held back from bombing U.S. troops and personnel in Baghdad will no doubt save American lives. But our detente with Iran may leave our allies to conclude that we’ve sold them out. If our relationship with those allies were in a more solid position, that would be one thing, but instead White House officials are telling journalists that Benjamin Netanyahu is “chickenshit” and a “coward,” Saudi Arabia’s former intelligence chief publicly blames the United States for what is going on in Syria, and Erdogan’s Turkey has stood in our way at every turn. We have no leverage to keep them onside. Instead our allies see a total abdication of American leadership and are considering jumping ship as it is.

If Iran ceased to be an enemy of the United States, that would of course be a great benefit to American national security. But if doing so means losing all our friends and giving Iran yet another diplomatic victory, we should reconsider our positions.

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  • Anthony

    “The United States is trying to put its house in order in the Middle East through rapprochement of sorts with the mullahs so that it can devote more time to other regions….”

    • Curious Mayhem

      Not going to happen. And to where are they turning their attention? To Asia? American influence is also at a nadir there ….

      • Anthony

        It’s an opinion expressed by Kaplan and no less valid than WSJ report; another take on Feed’s subject item.

        • Curious Mayhem

          I’d say, no *more* valid than the WSJ article ….

          • Anthony

            Either modifier will suffice.

  • Gene

    “No better enemy, no worse friend.” What in god’s name could possibly go wrong?

  • Arkeygeezer

    “If Iran ceased to be an enemy of the United States, that would of course be a great benefit to American national security. But if doing so means losing all our friends and giving Iran yet another diplomatic victory, we should reconsider our positions.”

    Whether by default, accident or design, the United States position in the Middle East is to contain the militant Islamists, let all the factions resolve their own problems in their own way, and hopefully get on good terms with the winners.

    So, far two of the emerging winners seem to be ISIS, and Iran. The U.S. would rather deal with Iran instead of ISIS.

    Other emerging winners are Israel, Kurdistan, and Egypt. The U.S. would do well to cozy up to them if it wants to continue to have influence in the middle east.

    Yet to be determined are Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and the Palestinian factions.

    Our positions are going to shift depending on the shifting sands in the area…

    • Fat_Man

      The most important development in the Middle East this summer was the
      creation of a de-facto alliance between Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

      The Obama Administration will have to give up its delusion that a useful
      deal can be made with Iran before it can use this new phenomenon to the
      advantage of peace and stability in the region.

  • qet

    It’s time for another Garfinkle update, stat!

    I for one would like to see a TAI piece that describes what the “vital interests” of the US are vis-a-vis “the Middle East.” Every one that I consider to be such turns out, on reflection, not to appear so vital after all. Case in point: Iran having a nuke. Any such list would have to be short. 20 “interests” that someone might list out cannot all be “vital.”

    • Andrew Allison

      If Iran gets the bomb, it will be used, probably by a surrogate, but used nonetheless. Given the popularity of the US in the region, the odds favor it as the target. I’d call that a vital interest.

      • qet

        I do not find this assertion (which has been made by others as well) plausible. A nuke is a paradox; its geopolitical power vanishes the moment it is used; a nation’s entire arsenal of nukes, if it has an arsenal, vanishes the moment it uses just one. Iran wants to be a power player and using a nuke would defeat that purpose.

        I also do not find plausible the assertion that Iran’s rulers are chiliastic fanatics who will readily launch their nuke(s) to bring on the eschaton (or whatever the equivalent Islamic terms are). Of course the problem is that when one rationally evaluates this risk using an expected value approach, the harm variable’s value doesn’t just approach infinity, it is infinity, thereby meaning that even an infinitesimally small probability results in maximum harm, so therefore the rational course is to do whatever it takes to reduce that probability to a certain zero. That is why such a limited linear algebraic analysis is, in fact, not rational in these circumstances.

        • Andrew Allison

          Your thesis rest on the proposition that the Mullahs and their followers are rational.

          • qet

            Only in the crudest sense of that word, which I tried to capture by assuming that they are not chliastic fanatics bent on bringing on the eschaton. I feel pretty confident that even were some or all of them such kind of fanatic, the military establishment would not cooperate, but not because I have any special knowledge of Iran or its people, only from my beliefs about human behavior generally.

          • Andrew Allison
          • qet

            I don’t think so. ISIS are the Goths of the 3rd Century, but Iran is the Gothic kingdom under Theodoric.

          • Curious Mayhem

            The Shi’ite radicals are fanatical theocrats with organization — corrupt and inefficient — but nonetheless, an organization.

            The Sunni radicals are fanatical theocrats with successive wild men and morphing groups that don’t stay organized for long in one place..

        • S.C. Schwarz

          The reason why countries like Saudi Arabia, which could certainly afford it, don’t have a nuclear deterrent is that they judged relying on the US a safer alternative. Now that Obama has effectively destroyed our credibility I think we will see a wave of second tier countries either buying or developing their own nuclear weapons. This, I believe, will be the most important effect of Obama’s incompetence and stupidity: A greatly increased chance of nuclear war.

          Of course when that war does occur they’ll blame it on George Bush.

  • S.C. Schwarz

    By the time Obama, Kerry, etc., are finished we won’t have one ally left in the world who trusts us. It will take 50 years to repair the damage these fools are doing, if it even can be repaired.

    • Andrew Allison

      Ditto for race relations.

    • Jacksonian_Libertarian


      I’m of the opinion that we need an Obama, Kerry, etc., every once in awhile to teach lessons of what not to do to the American Culture. The damage they do is the “Burnt Hand Teaches Best” school of Cultural advancement. I also see that our parasitic allies that have been getting a free ride from American military spending are finding out that they are now vulnerable. Also, remember that Reagan took over from the weakling Jimmy Carter and won the cold war so putting a 50 year number on American repair and recovery is likely pessimistic.

      We have not been well served by our Presidents on the Iran situation as one after the other have let the Terrorist funding Islamofascists unpunished for the deaths of thousands. Happy talk about how Islam is a “Religion of Peace”, or how we aren’t in a cultural war of “Western Culture vs. Islamic Culture” are clearly lies meant to shift responsibility and blame from the Politicians for doing nothing about the evil.

      Iran would be nothing without the income from oil, which they use to fund terror, develop nukes, and buy political support. So, that’s where they’re vulnerable and that is the strategy that should be employed in destroying them. We should destroy their entire soft target energy industry, every power plant, every pipeline, every refinery, every tanker and tank farm should burn. This would put every Iranian on foot and in the dark, just like the 7th century they seem to so desire.

      This Strategy, call it the “Bulge” Gambit after the “Battle of the Bulge”, would serve several objectives as all good strategies do. It would give the West a clear victory over an Islamic Country, stop Iranian funding of Terrorists, and remove the threat of nuclear weapons in the hands of fanatics. It would also send a message to every nation, but especially oil producing nations of OPEC as well as Russia, that they can be crushed with ease by American Air Power. Modern civilization can’t exist without the energy which replaced the muscle power of the ancients. America would be feared as the nation that can deny civilization to any nation that makes a nuisance of themselves.

  • Redux46

    The value of sunni arab countries as allies is greatly exaggerated and overused.

    They have had the good fortune of sitting on billions of dollars of oil wealth and remarkably managed to use it not to enter a modernity but reinforce and strengthen a regressive and virulent culture that’s manifested in Al Queda and now ISIS.

    The cold war is over and the sooner the US weens itself away from these gulf monarchies and shifts focus away from the middle east the better.

  • Curious Mayhem

    This is so nutty that even a novelist couldn’t have invented it. It’s true: American influence in the Middle East is at a 35-year low and will take years to recover, if ever. The current policies are in ruins. How does the US media talk about this with a straight face?

    And how does it talk about a clown like Kerry?

  • Fat_Man

    “Ditching Israel, Embracing Iran” by Lee Smith in The Weekly Standard on November 10, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 09

    “Last week, the Obama White House finally clarified its Middle East policy. It’s détente with Iran and a cold war with Israel.

    * * *

    “In other words, the White House is openly boasting that it
    bought the Iranians enough time to get across the finish line. Obama
    has insisted for five years that his policy is to prevent a nuclear Iran
    from emerging. In reality, his policy all along was to deter Israel
    from striking Iranian nuclear facilities.”

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