Musings on Iraq writes:
For the last several decades, security in the Middle East has been largely defined by outside powers. From the 1970s on the U.S. tried to play Iran off of Iraq. The 2003 invasion disrupted this balance of power, and the U.S. has been attempting to rebuild it ever since. Iran has been adamantly opposed to re-creating this system, preferring a friendly Iraq rather than a new enemy. This conflict over ideas about security is at the heart of the dispute between Iran and the U.S.
(H/t Andrew Sullivan.)
This observation is not new – but it is concise and distills the essence of Iran’s moves with regards to Iraq – whether they be asserting influence over the Iraqi leadership, undermining the American occupation by supplying weapons and other support to the Shiite insurgency, pulling back the Shiite insurgency to allow the surge to succeed, offering help in the run-up to the war. A less charitable phrasing of the above – which states that Iran just wants to avoid having Iraq as an enemy – is that Iran wants to have significant control over Iraq, or at least influence there. But either way, the essential dispute between America and Iran in Iraq is not over issues but over Iranian influence itself. This is true if you look at most Iranian-American disputes – they are not over issues as much as they are over limiting or expanding Iranian influence.
In the end, there are only two real points of contention: Israel and nuclear arms. They are serious issues, but it seems likely that a pragmatic Iranian leadership could make bargains on each. If America is able to finally create a Palestinian state – or make significant progress on this front – it will give Iran an opening to accept Israel. On nuclear weaponry, a pragmatic government might be persuaded to refrain from taking the final steps in developing a nuclear weapon once it could prove that it had reached the point where it had the knowledge and equipment to do so. If Iran remained an adversary in the region, the prospective nuclear weapon could still cause significant trouble – but if it were brought into an alliance with America, it would not.
And as I have maintained before – Iran and America are natural allies on most issues – even if the current president Ahmadinejad represents the part of Iran Americans are most suspicious of.