Iran – A New Dawn?

With nothing game changing happening until the past week it has been a slow month in the strategic arena.  I guess I could have examined the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, but all it would have been is just rehashing what I have previously said.  However, last week’s agreement between United States and Iran does present a significant potential in game changer in the Middle East international relations arena.  All, despite the tremendous opposition of those who don’t seem to grasp the significance of the deal and are stuck in the good guy/bad guy mentality. Or the Star Wars international relations theory as I explain in one of my previous post.  The deal that will be finalized this summer does truly present both an example of a strategy that is pursued with an achievable goal in mind and could serve as a stepping stone to altering the relationships US has pursued in the Middle East for the past fifty to sixty years.

Overall, the region currently is engaged in the Islamic Civil War, between competing Sunni and Shiite factions.  From Syria to Iraq to Yemen, all across the region Iran supported Shiites on one side and Saudi Arabia supported Sunnis on the other side are engaged in pursuit of a regional dominance. For the past half a century or so, especially after the fall of Shah in 1979, and the United States has been implicitly backing the Sunni interests.  With billions in aid for the Sunni states.  Unfortunately for us, our support of the Sunni governments has produced not gratitude, but push back.  Lest we forget, Al-Qaeda is a Sunni Muslim extremist group.  While the first of its kind, it did spawn a myriad of other similar organizations such as ISIL.  All of which are determined to harm U.S. interests and all are composed of Sunni Muslims. Most of which also adhere to the Wahhabi Islam.  The champion of this movement above all a Saudi Arabia, given its support for the Wahhabi strain of Islam both in Saudi Arabia and abroad. However, what we forget being as self centered as we are, the Sunni extremists hate Shiites more than they do us. What that means strategically for us is that the enemy of our enemy can be an useful helper.

On the other side is the issue of trust that some of our decision makers bring up.  However, what we should be concerned with is not trust, but rather understanding the interests Iran is trying to pursue. As demonstrated through negotiations, Iranians act out of self interest.  Therefore given our goal of defeating Sunni Islamic groups such as ISIL, Iranians could be a natural help.  While I wouldn’t go as far as calling them allies, both countries have the same goal of defeating Sunni extremism and associated groups. That doesn’t mean that we can’t limit Iranian influence in other areas of international relations, but it does mean we can use them as the counterbalance to the Saudi Arabian led Wahhabi movement.

While it might seem, that we’re could only be exchanging Sunni extremism for Shiite extremism, there are differences.  Iran and its proxies would have an extremely hard time dominating the other 90% of Muslims who are Sunni. As seen in Iraq and Syria, the best Iran can accomplish at this time is to create a semblance of equality.  With neither side gaining the upper hand. As the recent Iraqi offensive in Tikrit showed, Shiite militias have an extremely hard time in advancing into the areas populated by Sunnis.  That’s the same lesson that the Assad’s forces and Hezbollah learned in Syria.  The benefit to the United States of Iranian involvement is that the Sunni extremists have another adversary to worry about. This would force them to dissipate their resources, which could only help us.

That’s why this nuclear agreement is so important.  Despite and because of Saudi Arabian opposition it is imperative that the agreement gets done. With the nuclear issue resolved for the foreseeable future it will be possible for us to concentrate on the current threat of Wahhabi Islam.  Given that the threat of Sunni extremism impacts Iran directly we should let them primarily deal with it. While I don’t believe that in every case is the enemy of my enemy is my friend, in this case we should use the Iranians to rein in the Sunni extremist threat. This could work well in a short term, in the long term, who knows. My gut feeling is that the borders of the Middle East will have to be redrawn to accommodate both Sunni and Shiite population concentrations at some future date.  How long that will take, unknown.  The Lebanese civil war took more than 15 years to run its course. While we can’t know when the conflict will end we can use it to advance US interests for the time being and keep the threat manageable.  Which is what the nuclear agreement with Iran is all about.