Who's going to contain Iran once we smash ISIS?

Some proponents of a rapprochement between Washington and Iran acknowledge this reality, and suggest it is a worthy tradeoff. Writing in the The Telegraph, Sir Malcom Rifkind noted that, unlike Churchill’s and Roosevelt’s alliance with Soviet Union in the 1940s, “Iran will never be a superpower or a global threat.” Some have taken the argument even further, and claimed Iran and the United States have the capacity to become strategic partners rather than mere temporary allies. In December of last year, David Patrikarikos argued in the New York Times that Iran’s support for terrorists, virulent anti American rhetoric, and enmity with Israel are more the product of historical animosity rather than ideological fervor. Thus, Iran’s leaders are rational, and would therefore respond to American overtures of friendship. Such cooperation could allegedly foster solutions between Israel, Hezbollah and Hamas; Iran could become a regional ally in countering Russian and Chinese influence in the Middle East; and, most importantly, Iran would become an invaluable partner in fighting Sunni extremism. Both lines of reasoning rest on a hopeful yet unsound assessment of the Islamic Republic.

Rifkind is most likely correct that the Islamic Republic couldn’t possibly threaten Western interests in the manner of the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, an Iranian hegemony in the Middle East would mark the transfer of power over one of the world’s most strategically important regions to an avowed enemy of Western interests. It would prove a critical asset to Russia, and perhaps China, in their attempt to challenge American influence globally. Most of all, an Iran capable of projecting power from the Persian Gulf to the Eastern Mediterranean would present its chief rivals, Israel and Saudi Arabia, with few options of sorting through their differences other than war. Indeed, preventing Iranian hegemony in the Middle East is one of the key reasons both of those countries are allies of the United States in the first place. War between Israel, Iran, and the Gulf States would be a conflict in size and scope not seen in decades. It would be the sort of war that would call for involving outside powers, and therefore, not unlike the Balkans prior to World War I, catalyze conflicts between great powers elsewhere. Such a conflict would most certainly mark the end of “Pax Americana” that has fostered unprecedented peace and prosperity during, and after the Cold War.

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