Today in Brazil, Iran scored a point by drawing Nigeria in the World Cup, and the Iranian president is proud.
— Hassan Rouhani (@HassanRouhani) June 16, 2014
Rouhani’s happy about something else too: Over the weekend many American voices have been saying we must engage Iran to deal with the crisis in Iraq. Secretary of State John Kerry says it is necessary. Just as important, the usually-reliable hawk Lindsey Graham has come out for doing so.
And the hard-core neoconservative faction is flipping out over the idea. Today Bill Kristol has actually called for American boots on the ground in Iraq so that we don’t have to deal with Iran. Israel’s interests are obviously at the core of this conversation.
Secretary Kerry told Katie Couric of Yahoo News that the U.S. might even do a military coordination with Iran, before the Pentagon walked that part back.
QUESTION: You – will you reach out to Iran, and how can that country be helpful? Or is that like entering into a hornet’s nest, because that will inflame the Sunnis?
SECRETARY KERRY: We’re open – look, we’re open to discussions if there’s something constructive that can be contributed by Iran if Iran is prepared to do something that is going to respect the integrity and sovereignty of Iraq and the ability of the government to reform —
QUESTION: Can you see cooperating with Iran militarily?
SECRETARY KERRY: I – at this moment, I think we need to go step by step and see what, in fact, might be a reality, but I wouldn’t rule out anything that would be constructive to providing real stability,
The State Department echoed Kerry:
does cooperation mean coordination and consultation, or is it possible that there could be some cooperation?
MS. PSAKI: It means both… if there was a constructive – something constructive that could be contributed by Iran, if Iran is prepared to do something that is going to respect the integrity and sovereignty of Iraq and the ability of the government to reform, that that would be what we would discuss.
And Sen. Lindsey Graham has defected from the neoconservative bloc on this:
“The Iranians can provide some assets to make sure Baghdad doesn’t fall,” Graham said on CNN’sState of the Union. “We need to coordinate with the Iranians and the Turks need to get in the game and get the Sunni Arabs back into the game, form a new government without [Iraqi prime minister Nouri Al-Maliki.]”
John McCain doesn’t agree.
As for the chattering classes, tonight Chris Matthews and Howard Fineman agreed that the U.S. should work with Iran to attempt to stabilize Iraq. Earlier today Leslie Gelb of the Council on Foreign Relations said the same thing on All Things Considered:
GELB: I can imagine that the Iranian leadership – these guys are pragmatic. So I think people are sufficiently desperate at this point – that if the Iranians are willing to play the kind of role they talk about, we would work with them.
[Robert] SIEGEL: How would the U.S. be able to work together with Iran in Iraq while supporting, I gather, the end of the Assad regime in Syria, where that regime is backed by the same Iranians?
GELB: This is all interconnected. And the real enemy, as far as I’m concerned, in Syria are the jihadis as well.
Last Friday Katrina Vanden Heuvel of the Nation slam-dunked David Brooks on NPR and also mentioned Iran as a force for good:
Any lasting solution has to be regional in nature and must address the political interest of all the major factions and it must involve Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey. Perhaps the most promising development is that Saudi Arabia is now willing to tone down sectarian war and possibly even cooperate with Iran on Syria and Iraq.
Brooks seemed to be missing his talking points. He sought to blame Obama for pulling out of Iraq, and George W. Bush for pulling into Iraq, a move Brooks cheerled in the event.
Other neocons are now flipping out. Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post says this is the time for the U.S. to exercise power. She’s frankly Israelcentric:
It seems the president will do anything to avoid using U.S. power in the region, even if it means accelerating Iran’s influence in Iraq. Imagine the reaction of our allies in Egypt, Sunni Gulf states and Israel when we let on that we are going to be assisting Iran’s hegemonic vision and thereby bolstering the state sponsor of groups including Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. In lieu of strengthening U.S. influence in the Middle East, Obama seems ready to bolster Iran’s. And if he is bent on this course, surely he’ll not challenge Iran and its puppet in Syria. Why, that might “upset” Iran and either wreck a nuclear deal or force Obama to handle Iraq on his own.
Cliff May of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies e-mailed, “To enlist Tehran, the leading state sponsor of terrorism, in a fight against ISIS, a non-state terrorist organization, makes as much sense as stocking a river with crocodiles to deal with a piranha problem.”
Now here are Bill Kristol and Frederick Kagan at the Weekly Standard: They want US boots on the ground, and say now is not the time to “relitigate” the decision to invade Iraq in 2003. It would be “disastrous” to strengthen Iran. Instead, we must “act boldly and decisively to help stop the advance of the forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)—without empowering Iran.” More from these armchair warriors:
This would require a willingness to send American forces back to Iraq. It would mean not merely conducting U.S. air strikes, but also accompanying those strikes with special operators, and perhaps regular U.S. military units, on the ground. This is the only chance we have…
Throwing our weight behind Iran in the fight against al Qaeda in Iraq, as some are suggesting, would make things even worse. Conducting U.S. airstrikes without deploying American special operators or other ground forces would in effect make the U.S. Iran’s air force. Such an approach would be extremely shortsighted. The al Qaeda threat in Iraq is great, and the U.S. must take action against it. But backing the Iranians means backing the Shi’a militias that have been the principal drivers of sectarian warfare, to say nothing of turning our backs on the moderates on both sides who are suffering the most. Allowing Iran to in effect extend its border several hundred kilometers to the west with actual troop deployments would be a strategic disaster. In addition, the U.S. would be perceived as becoming the ally of the Islamic Republic of Iran against all of the forces of the Arab and Sunni world, conceding Syria to the Iranian-backed Bashir al-Assad, and accepting the emergence of an Iranian hegemony soon to be backed by nuclear weapons. And at the end of the day, Iran is not going to be able to take over the Sunni areas of Iraq—so we would end up both strengthening Iran and not defeating ISIS.