September 14, 2015


What If Iran and the U.S. Keep Talking? (Noah Feldman, 9/13/15, Bloomberg View)

[M]oderates in the U.S. and Iran -- and possibly even Israel -- will see things differently. Many of them perceive large areas of overlapping American and Iranian interests, most notably the defeat of Islamic State and a solution to the generational humanitarian and policy debacle that is Syria. If the U.S. and Iran work together on those problems, they could strengthen and deepen the connections made in the course of the nuclear negotiations. Ultimately, a U.S.-Iran rapprochement could change the strategic alignments in the Middle East and Persian Gulf that have existed since the 1979 Islamic revolution. [...]

In Iraq, Iran and the U.S. have been cooperating, albeit awkwardly, in fighting Islamic State. Essentially, the U.S. is providing airpower, while the most effective ground forces have been Iranian-backed Shiite militias under the guidance of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. The progress of this cooperation will be a good early indicator of whether Iran and the U.S. agree to disagree over ideology while cooperating over a common interest.

If Islamic State isn't defeated by the de facto U.S.-Iranian coalition in Ramadi, then the prospects for further cooperation will be dim. If, however, Islamic State is pushed back in Ramadi, both Iranian and U.S. moderates will be heartened. Both will then be able to argue that together, Iran and the U.S. actually make an important difference in re-establishing stability.

The really pressing need for stability exists, of course, in Syria. Some estimates have almost half of Syria's population being displaced by the civil war there -- which means roughly 12 million people on the move. This isn't just a crisis for Europe, which could well end up with more than 1 million of them. It's a major crisis of destabilization for tiny Lebanon, which can ill afford 1 million or more extra people. It threatens the stability of Jordan, where well over 1 million more have already gone. And it's bad (and expensive) news for Turkey, which doesn't have the same stability worries but is struggling with the emergence of a growing Kurdish regional entity that threatens to connect Iraqi Kurdistan to Syrian Kurdistan.

The U.S. and Iran share a common interest in restabilizing Syria. The endgame could involve removing President Bashar al-Assad or leaving him in control of a rump-Syria that's a cantonment for the country's Alawites.

Posted by at September 14, 2015 7:02 PM

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