Thursday, March 5, 2009

Rafsanjani Reassures Iraq

Ex-president and "Mr. Pragmatic" Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani is in reassure Iraq of its large neighbor's friendly support now that the much-beloved Americans are beginning to pull back. Or maybe that's not quite the right tone. As Layla Anwar brilliantly assesses it, the deal is Iranian management of Iraq on behalf of Washington.

And the rest of the story, she continues, is a grand regional settlement.

From a thoughtful American perspective, this makes sense. (I know, one does not combine "thoughtful" with "American," but recession has a way of taking the fun out of hubris.) Sure, why wouldn't Washington want to resolve all the burning issues by sharing Iraq with Iran, getting Iran to make us a deal in Afghanistan, resolving the endless Israeli-Palestinian conflict...

Ah, OK, Washington gets peace in Palestine, peace in Iraq plus access to its oil and maybe permanent military bases (everybody in Iran OK with that???), peace in Afghanistan.

But exactly what does Iran get?

  • Access to Iraq...well, it already has that and is only going to get more as the U.S. gets distracted with other problems.
  • Stability in Iraq...hmmm, such a deal would make stability Iran's problem, no? Are the Saudis and the Iraqi Sunni tribes on board with this?
  • Stability in Afghanistan, end to drug threat, stability in Baluchistan. That seems pretty much a win-win for Washington and Tehran.
  • Isolation of al Qua'ida. Another win-win.
  • Nuclear security guarantee from Washington? That will kill a lot of careers in Israel. If Obama has that many guts, he'll have earned his office.
  • Full access to international trade and technology?
  • Departure of U.S. navy from the Persian Gulf?

Counterbalancing that,

  • Iran loses the threat of attacking lots of Americans on the ground.
  • Until Israel is brought very firmly on board, Iran will be even more threatened than it is now, with Israel having an endless array of excuses to spoil the party by attacking Hamas or a West Bank refugee camp or trying to rescue one of its spies from Lebanon or whatever.
  • America, once out of its quagmire, will...well, who knows what it will do?
There is a grand regional bargain here, I think, but it is a three-legged stool:
  1. Iran intervenes in all directions counseling moderation.
  2. Washington guarantees both Iranian and Israeli security.
  3. Israel turns away from "Greater Israel" aspirations to become a good neighbor within its 1967 borders.
Iranian, American, and Israeli negotiators must all sit together on the stool, and no one is allowed to put his feet on the ground. And they have to balance there for a long time while the smoothly oiled political machine in Tehran decides whether or not this bargain with the devil merits giving up all the fun it has been having playing leader of Islam.

Then there's all those details like millions of Iraqi refugees, a regional nuclear-free zone, persuading Hamas that ruling a united West-Bank+Gaza country is as good as it can get, tribal Sunni fury at being denied a return to power, Saudi horror as the Shi'ite crescent emerges from the sands, and a very frustrated al Qua'ida.

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