John Kerry: Nothing is off the table in Iraq, but working with Iran is off the table

Via Mediaite, I’m honestly surprised. Partly because … he himself implied it was very much on the table a few days ago:

Prodded on whether the United States would consider cooperating militarily with Iran, Kerry replied: “Let’s see what Iran might or might not be willing to do before we start making any pronouncements.”

But “I think we are open to any constructive process here that could minimize the violence, hold Iraq together — the integrity of the country — and eliminate the presence of outside terrorist forces that are ripping it apart,” the top U.S. diplomat told Couric.

“I wouldn’t rule out anything that would be constructive to providing real stability, a respect for the (Iraqi) constitution, a respect for the election process, and a respect for the ability of the Iraqi people to form a government that represents all of the interests of Iraq — not one sectarian group over another,” he said.

Today he’s claiming he meant we should be open to talking to Iran about Iraq but not outright cooperation. If we’re not talking about cooperation, er, what are we talking about?

I’m surprised because I thought O and Kerry would be eager to use the ISIS threat as a new reason to make nice with Iran, which would in theory give them extra political cover to sell a lame nuclear deal with Tehran to American voters later. “See? We can trust them! Sort of. On a few things.” Could be that they wanted to go that route but simply caught too much flak for it behind the scenes from congressional Dems who support Israel. Having David Petraeus warning audiences that we can’t be the air force for Shia militias isn’t helping either. Or, it could be that the White House tried to make nice with Iran but were rebuffed. Rouhani, the country’s new “moderate” president, made some noises about working with the U.S. the other day but the military seems to have kiboshed that idea, calling the U.S. “sponsors and supporters of terrorists in the region.” More likely, I think, is that Iran is deliberately playing good cop/bad cop with Rouhani and the military to build leverage with the White House in nuclear negotiations. Sure, they’ll coordinate with the U.S. against ISIS — if we play ball on nukes first. Obama and Kerry aren’t going for it. Not sure why.

Another possibility: The U.S. has decided that Iran’s proxy, Maliki, absolutely must go, and Iran will never go along with that. Which means cooperation is DOA.

The Obama administration is signaling that it wants a new government in Iraq without Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, convinced the Shiite leader is unable to reconcile with the nation’s Sunni minority and stabilize a volatile political landscape.

The U.S. administration is indicating it wants Iraq’s political parties to form a new government without Mr. Maliki as he tries to assemble a ruling coalition following elections this past April, U.S. officials say.

Such a new government, U.S., officials say, would include the country’s Sunni and Kurdish communities and could help to stem Sunni support for the al Qaeda offshoot, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, that has seized control of Iraqi cities over the past two weeks. That, the officials argue, would help to unify the country and reverse its slide into sectarian division.

Right, but Iran doesn’t want that. They’re winning, sort of, in Syria and they’re convinced they can win in Iraq too, especially if Iraqi Shiites end up being radicalized by the war with ISIS and decide to start “cleansing” Anbar province. They’ve got the numbers in Iraq, so why would Iran agree to dump Maliki in favor of someone who’d play nicer with the Sunnis and Kurds? Maliki’s already ruled out quitting as a condition of U.S. help, knowing that Iran will back him up even if the U.S. doesn’t. And besides, even if he agreed to quit, the new prime minister would probably end up facing an insurgent threat from the Shiites instigated by Iran to try to destabilize the government and force him from power. “Cooperating” with Iran means bringing about total Shiite dominance of the country, which means total victory for the mullahs. Maybe even Obama and Kerry think that’s a bridge too far. Or, more likely, that Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Turkey do, and Obama realizes he can’t afford to lose their cooperation in other regional matters.

Exit question: See how Kerry sneers about Dick Cheney having led the U.S. into Iraq? Didn’t Senator Kerry, foreign-policy genius, vote for that invasion?

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