Over the long term, Iran may also prove a more reliable U.S. ally than Saudi Arabia. Iranians are better educated and more pro-American than their neighbors across the Persian Gulf, and unlike Saudi Arabia, Iran has some history of democracy. One of the biggest problems with America’s Mideast policy in recent years has been that, from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan to Egypt, the governments the United States supports preside over populations that hate the U.S. Thursday’s nuclear deal, by contrast, may pave the way for a positive relationship with the Iranian state that is actually undergirded by a positive relationship with the Iranian people.
Which brings us to the second benefit of ending America’s cold war with Iran: It could empower the Iranian people vis-à-vis their repressive state. American hawks, addled by the mythology they have created around Ronald Reagan, seem to think that the more hostile America’s relationship with Iran’s regime becomes, the better the United States can promote Iranian democracy. But the truth is closer to the reverse. The best thing Reagan ever did for the people of Eastern Europe and the U.S.S.R. was to embrace Mikhail Gorbachev. In 1987, American hawks bitterly attacked Reagan for signing the INF agreement, the most sweeping arms-reduction treaty of the Cold War. But the tougher it became for Soviet hardliners to portray the United States as menacing, the tougher it became for them to justify their repression at home. And the easier it became for Gorbachev to pursue the policies of glasnost and perestroika that ultimately led to the liberation of Eastern Europe and the disintegration of the U.S.S.R.