Should U.S. work with Iran in Iraq? Yes, if it wants to take on the real challenge: China

By Trita Parsi
June 23, 2014

A member of the Kurdish security forces takes up position with his weapon while guarding an oil refinery, on the outskirts of Mosul

To work with Iran or not to work with Iran? That’s the question dogging Washington as Iraq descends into chaos, reminding America that its mission there was never truly accomplished.

As Sunni militants move toward Baghdad, and Iran’s supreme leader condemns U.S. involvement in the conflict, reaching out to Iran is less about changing America’s regional alignments, and more about defining its primary goal in the Middle East: Does America want stability, or does it want domination?

If Washington’s goal is stability, then cooperating with Iran makes sense because Tehran needs a stable Iraq and has valuable intelligence and political influence that can advance U.S. security. Iran has invested heavily in maintaining Iraq’s geographic unity under a Shi’ite-led government over whom it holds significant influence. For Iran, a stable Iraq led by an ally is better than an unstable Iraq led by Sunni jihadists who hate Iran more than they hate America. For that reason, Rouhani and others in Tehran had expressed willingness to cooperate with Washington against the jihadists.

But working with Iran does not make sense if the U.S. objective is to reinvigorate America’s political and military dominance over the region, even at the expense of endless war.

Many neoconservatives — such as William Kristol — believe that Washington must sustain its dominance in the Middle East, regardless of cost. According to this outlook, stability ranks second to domination. If instability at times helps secure or sustain control in the region, so be it.

Rouhani addresses the audience during a meeting in AnkaraSome neoconservatives even have a name for it: “creative destruction.” According to neocon operative Michael Ledeeen, “creative destruction is our middle name, both within our own society and abroad.” It’s a concept the neocons apply to both domestic and foreign policy.

This camp believes that in the case of Iran, collaboration — even against a common enemy — should be ruled out because the real threat to U.S. power is not the Sunni jihadists, but Iran’s challenge to the American order in the region. Tehran, the neocons argue, wants to replace the United States as the region’s top dog. That makes it a greater threat than the jihadists. In fact, if instability weakens Iran or drains its resources, then that serves the U.S., the reasoning goes. After all, it’s creative destruction.

Yet if regional stability is considered a higher priority than doubling down or dominating the Middle East, collaborating with Iran is a viable option — particularly if one puts the waning strategic importance of the Middle East in a global perspective. Pivoting away from the Middle East makes sense considering the cost of another ground war in the region, the U.S.’s growing energy independence, and perhaps most importantly, the fact that the real challenge to America’s global preeminence will come from China.

Indeed, stability in the Middle East is more important than dominating the region if one recognizes that China — and not Iran — is America’s true competitor. Persia may be a roaring lion, but China is a rising dragon.

Coordination with Iran can help stabilize and enable the United States to focus on higher priorities — whether in the east or at home — while avoiding getting re-entangled in the Iraqi mess.

After all, choosing domination over stability ultimately puts America in a permanent state of war in the Middle East. No wonder President Obama is resisting these neocon voices.

PHOTOS: A member of the Kurdish security forces takes up position with his weapon while guarding an oil refinery, on the outskirts of Mosul, June 22, 2014. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani addresses the audience during a meeting in Ankara June 10, 2014. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

13 comments

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

How about should Iran work with the USA? Nope.

Posted by stambo2001 | Report as abusive

The above article is all ok, but where are the bloody rascals who were threatening a strike on Iran? Just last year we were all lead to believe by pretty much the same media men that Iran was to be attacked this hour, this second. Two fully armed aircraft carriers were paraded in the waters off Iran to show the “might” of America, conducting exercises and expecting that the kindergarten Iranians will piss inside their pants and surrender. On the contrary, Iran threatened to bomb the sitting ducks and destroy the 6000 people on board each carrier and turn the nuclear powered ships into a Chernobyl/Fukushima in the center of the Persian Gulf for the whole world to see. Probably America matured after this incident (they backed down from a confrontational approach because this direction would surely lead to a world war) and there are no such ships today in the Persian Gulf threatening Iran. There was crippling job cuts too in the forces too. The reason behind this write up is to show what a world scale bluff it was to attack Iran. Now with Iraq, America is learning lessons from Iran. Besides, Ukraine has shown America its place in the world. America also knows what one bin Laden could do to it. And bombing Iran could certainly produce a million Ladens from its 2 million strong army plus a million more spawned from radicalised muslims from countries such as Iran, Iraq, Saudi, the Sudans, Morocco, Egypt, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, SE Asia, and many others. Attack in Iran may well be designated as the biggest and sensational bluff of the 21st century.

Posted by Dhirajkunar | Report as abusive

Trita.. I’m not certain you were being intentional sarcastic by quoting the neocons …but you did give me this morning’s laugh…

” the real threat to U.S. power is not the Sunni jihadists, but Iran’s challenge to the American order in the region”.

Just wonder how they would define “order”?

Posted by LeighLee | Report as abusive

There is no better way to bring enemies closer than working together on a common goal. Fixing our relationships is in our best interests. There is so much mistrust on both sides of US/Iranian that nothing can be fixed until we take small steps. The idea that every single decision needs to be based on a greater scheme is petty.

Intelligent adults do what is right, because it is right.

Posted by Robsss | Report as abusive

Yes they should! It’s the only viable option America has it is too thin spread already, and involvement in a Sunni styled war would take a Vietnam like proxy war that could drag out for decades. Our insatiable appetite for oil is stopping us from holding the Saudis back, the wretched fanatic Sunni state. And the fact the Israel is opposed to US siding with Iran does not help. The so called world’s biggest democracy held at ransom by outside influences boggles one’s mind. Bring out the new banners “Mission Impossible”.

Posted by politicaljunkie | Report as abusive

Iraq should tell the US to bugger off! The US has caused enough murder around the globe, we don’t need more! As for requesting assistance from Iran, Iran has said NO, they don’t trust the US! My own feelings entirely!

Posted by australianman | Report as abusive

The US should work on removing Obama from office. Obama is responsible for not affectively managing this because he was too busy golfing and showboating.

Posted by Bighammerman | Report as abusive

“Creative destruction”? Is that something like “creative accounting”? You didn’t quite know what you were doing the first time, lied to do it, and now propose doing something else, will probably lie to that too, and expect something better? A lot of hungry military contractors lining up are there, already?

Also, to start to consider China a strategic threat is something like turning the clock back about 40 years. What is the problem? Not having an enemy? The poor souls in government can’t find sufficient motivation without threats from somewhere? But there are so many dirty deals and abusive states and regimes that need protecting, aren’t there?

It was something one had to expect in the pre-industrial world that there were always foreign threats, but in the age of global internet access (more or less) and high speed travel, and international higher education, maintaining a world order with the polarities of the old world disorders is just short of criminal. Or is it just a comfortable international pattern and hard for the political elites to think differently?

Its going to be bizarre to continue buying billions in goods from China, while China invests in US government securities, all the while the US will be trying to hold them to an acceptable scale. Aren’t the US’s and China’s ability to do that already compromised significantly?

Doesn’t it all sound a little scripted by George Orwell? I think George would enjoy the prospect of the US taking Iran, the Saudis, and Emirates all under its wing. It should give the White House office of protocol something exciting to worry about when they lay out seating charts in the State Dining Room. It could seat them at the far corners of the room? And you put the Israelis right in the center because they paid lobbyists a fortune to get there.

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive

Wow, Trita Parsi must be residing in Colorado and partaking of the liberal laws there if he writes this stuff. Clearly the US has and always will have deep and abiding strategic interests in the Middle East. Much as Iran would frankly love the US to just go away and leave the region to themselves, the US is there to stay. Now you may say that oil for example is not good enough reason and we should frack the heck of out of the US and not import oil anymore. Worthy goal that may be, it’s not going to happen.

Also, our treaty obligations with Israel, Turkey and Saudi Arabia keep us firmly joined at the hip with what happens in the region. So the idea of working with Iran in partnership is a non-starter since the conceit is that we have a miraculous convergence of interests right now because of ISIS and Iraq. That ignores the vast differences the US has with Iran on human rights, nuclear weapons, support for Hezbollah, Syria and Hamas, not to mention the continued threats to continue the great jihad against the Great Satan by Iran’s supreme leader Khamenei.

But what I like most from Trita Parsi’s editorial is the brass it takes to even float this idea with a straight face in the energetic hope American policymakers suffer a brain seizure and forget all about Iran’s long history of aggression and human rights abuses. Geez, I mean do we really want to be working with a nation that hangs people in public still and puts people in prison for posting on Facebook?

Posted by ChangeIranNow | Report as abusive

With respect, I’m going to have to disagree with Mr. Parsi. There is not going to be any partnership so long as Iran maintains its position to expand its centrifuge refining capacity in nuclear talks, refusaes to improve its human rights situation or abandon its support of Hezbollah and Assad in Syria, which is a red line Khamenei will not cross.

Reducing their capacity as the West wants, will be the fatal blow to Iran’s nuclear ambitions and as such will be the primary reason why any agreement won’t be reached. Iran hopes though that any cooperation on Iraq announced will be viewed as positive by both sides since neither side can afford a total collapse in Iraq. Iran needs a deal badly to get keep its Shiite ally alive. Unfortunately for Iran, the West, especially US Congressmen will oppose any deal without guarantees that Iran will abandon any effort to meddle in Iraq from now on and rightly so.

Lastly the other mistaken idea Mr. Parsi tries to push is the idea that there is a power struggle in Iran between conservative and moderate blocs. There are not schisms in Iran’s leadership which is unified and ultimately obedient to Supreme Leader Khamenei. To think otherwise is succumbing to the propaganda effort being aimed at the West.

Posted by ChangeIranNow | Report as abusive

Let us be clear, the neoconservative ideology of creative destruction will aid our enemies, and consume America as well.

Our enemies know they cannot defeat us on the battle field, but that they can draw down our national treasury to hurt our development, and even bring us down. This was Bin Laden’s intent, and now Al Quida and other factions.

The neoconservatives refuse to fund our wars. So we increase our debt continually, and fail to invest in our nation to attain a higher civilization.

As is today, we are not funding infrastructure, education and job training, and improving our quality of life. We are cutting back on taking care of our own peoples needs. We are losing our civilization, and who we are as Americans

It is not being an isolationist, but emphasizing diplomacy. Diplomacy means working with those who you may not have things in common, and who even may be your enemy.

Posted by Flash1022 | Report as abusive

@CahngeIranNow – The Saudi’s are every bit as repressive as Iran and not even close to being a democracy. The Syrians and the Iranians, at least, have a parliament.

The most persistently expansionist regime in the ME has been Israel and the only country there that keeps another territory captive as an occupying power, with an appalling record of respect for the captive’s human rights. Iran has not attempted to expand it’s own territory and even stands to loose the Kurdish area – as do Iraq and Turkey – very likely, if this country decides it’s time to aid them in that move. Kerry is talking to the Kurdish region of Iraq now. Perhaps the quid pro quo is – If you help Iraq know we will help you create a Kurdish state when Iraq isn’t so unstable or as threatened?

Both Israel and the US have a history of very large lies to get what they want and everyone over there knows it, I’m sure.

Iran and Iraq fought over underground drilling access to Iraqi oil fields, and Israel has never signed the NPT while Iran has. Now Iran and Iraq have better relations.
You didn’t mention that this country reduced Iraq’s interest in their oil fields to between 15% and 40%. We obviously don’t care that much for the civilians so the oil leases of the oil majors are what we are really “tied to the hip” by. As in “Brave New World” this country makes the “sign of the Ford” but it looks like a cloverleaf – not a “T” – and the entire country is utterly dependent on the automobile. Our hips are painted by oil and our butts are glued to the seats by it.

This country complains most vehemently about other people’s human rights record until we are certain we control their resources. Then we turn a blind eye. Human rights are never the top of the list of this country’s strategic interests. They don’t pay.

IF big oil could steer this country into an invasion of Iran, it would and it would blame the civilians if they didn’t form a comfortably protective and agreeable government to inure the stability of the leases. Corporations do nothing better than play the flaming hypocrites. You don’t have to believe a word of it if you work in a corporate PR division. In fact, it works better that way. Disbelief makes one more of a “team player” and doesn’t hamper “creativity”.

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive

In Chinese a common term for the America is the beautiful country. In Farsi a common term for America is the great satan. Maybe its’ just me, but I think it would be easier to deal with the Chinese than with the Persians.

Posted by ald56 | Report as abusive