Daniel Berman doubts the US can cooperate with Iran on Iraq. Not only does Rouhani lack the clout to do a deal with the Great Satan, he says, our interests there are not really aligned – a fact Iran hasn’t forgotten, even if we have:
Iran, is not … unduly concerned about the breakdown of the Iraqi state. While Tehran does not desire a Sunni Islamist Iraq, it doesn’t particularly want a multicultural or even strong Shia led Iraq either. Such a state, especially if it remains democratic, would pose a serious threat to the legitimacy of the Iranian regime, especially given the relatively “liberal” outlook of Iraq’s Shia clergy compared to Iran’s. Many senior Iraqi clerics showed sympathy for the Green Movement in 2009 and Iran is not interested in a repeat.
The best shot Iran has at preventing one is for Iraq to be dominated by a weak Shia regime in the south and center dependent on Iranian military support. Such a government would be unable to seriously oppose Iranian policies, or to allow its senior leaders to criticize Iran’s internal arrangements. It would also allow Iran to effectively exclude the United States from the country, something that would be harder in a state with substantial Kurdish and Sunni influence. Iran therefore has an interest in supporting Maliki to the extent that the fall of Baghdad is prevented, but has no real reason to want to win his war for him. This is also why the United States should not raise its expectations too high regarding cooperation with Iran. The goals of the Iranian and American governments in Iraq are still far too great.
A cautious Frum asks why we should protect Maliki when he’s really Tehran’s guy, not ours:
Now, the most extreme and brutal of the anti-regime forces inside Syria has turned against Maliki. He is seeking American help, and Maliki’s patrons in Tehran appear content to see the United States rescue their client. According to some reports, the Iranians view U.S. aid to Maliki as a strategic partnership that could smooth the way to a nuclear deal more favorable to them. Is this situation not utterly upside down? It’s Iran that has a vital interest in the survival of Maliki, not the United States. It’s Iran that should be entreating the U.S. for assistance to Maliki—and Iran that should be expected to pay the strategic price for whatever support Maliki gets.
Abbas Milani sees cooperation between Iran and the US as a heavy lift:
Both in Iran and the U.S., as well as the Middle East region, there are powerful forces and countries that feel threatened by any Iran-American rapprochement. Iran wants to keep Iraq together, keep Shiites if not Maliki in power, and keep the IRGC’s extensive network of militia and economic presence in Iraq intact. The U.S. clearly has no love lost for Maliki and his sectarian politics, is gingerly moving toward favoring a loosely federated Iraq, and certainly does not want to encourage, or enable, Iran’s increased power in Iraq. Moreover, the two countries find themselves on opposing sides of the war in Syria. While Rouhani took four days—only after much cudgeling by conservatives—to congratulate Assad on his “election” victory, radical conservatives keep insisting that keeping Assad in power is a key strategic goal of the Islamic regime. In spite of these tensions, the specter of ISIS haunting the Levant is strong enough to bring the old foes together, if only briefly, to try to put the genie of Salafi extremism back in the bottle.
In Tom Ricks’ view, Iran is playing a long game here, and winning:
I don’t think that Iran has a failed state on its hands. What it had for several years after 2001 was the threat of American-dominated states on both its western and eastern borders. Now it faces no such threat, and is consolidating its hold on the Shiite rump in Iraq, from Baghdad to Basra. That’s a big piece of important territory that represents extension of Persian control to the Euphrates, and because that area includes Basra, tighter control of much of the Persian Gulf. And after Iran finishes there, I think eventually it will turn its attention to the Kurds and get some of the oil up there. But no hurry.
But the Bloomberg editors argue that we need to hold our noses and work with Iran in order to prevent complete chaos in Iraq:
The bigger question isn’t whether the U.S. should try to work with Iran, but whether it can. Events are moving so quickly that the chance for a political settlement may soon pass. ISIL is boasting of executing 1,700 Shiite soldiers in a transparent attempt to provoke the Shiite retaliation that would inflame moderate Sunnis and ignite a Syria-style civil war. Hard-liners in Tehran may also prefer to replicate their success in propping up Assad in Syria, pouring gasoline on the fire rather than work with the Great Satan in Iraq.
McCain’s usual partner in foreign-policy adventurism, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, has it right. Working with Iran to stabilize Iraq, he said, is akin to the Allies working with Stalin to defeat Hitler in World War II. Then, as now, the U.S. had to prioritize threats and try to work with any willing partner to counter them — even when that partner was an enemy.
I remain ambivalent, but inclined to live with Iran’s attempts to prevent any ISIS inroads in Baghdad. As for any US military intervention, I think Tom Friedman has been on a roll lately:
It feels both too late and too early to stop the disintegration — too late because whatever trust there was between communities is gone, and Maliki is not trying to rebuild it, and too early because it looks as if Iraqis are going to have to live apart, and see how crazy and impoverishing that is, before the different sects can coexist peacefully.
It is a delusion to believe the US can play any meaningful role in that sad process of learning. In fact, the more we intervene, the more we postpone Iraqis reckoning with their own actual options. Previous Dish on the potential for US-Iranian cooperation here and here.