With the chaos brought on by the Islamic State group, and much of the Middle East under duress, we should appreciate the promise of having closer, better relations between the U.S. and Iran.
CONTROLLING Iran’s nuclear enrichment will not be the only outcome of the recent agreement that was signed between that country and the six major world powers, including the U.S. The treaty also paves the way for the lifting of sanctions and allows Iran to re-engage with the world, participate in global financial and commodity markets, and become, once again, a “normal” member of the international community. The possibility of such an outcome provides a particularly compelling reason for Congress to support this treaty.
An Iran that is multilaterally engaged with the world will also become a more likely candidate to play a constructive role in the Middle East and even cooperate with the United States.
Iran is one of the largest countries in the Middle East. Close to two-thirds of 80 million Iranians were born after the 1979 revolution. The country has a highly educated middle class. Opinion polls indicate that Iranians support the recent treaty and the opening up of the country, which they hope will follow soon.
Despite the sanctions that crippled the country, the Iranians have become savvy in gaining access to the digital world. They have built successful online companies fostering the growth of a dynamic class of traders and investors who are eager to gain access to international markets. Iranians use digital media also to communicate and bypass the government censors.
While the lifting of sanctions will bring obvious immediate benefits to Iran, the U.S. stands to gain even more from such a turn of events.
The U.S. is relying on a handful of states whose interests are diverging in significant ways from those of the United States or are going through severe domestic troubles. For example, Saudi Arabia has bankrolled some of the most conservative strands of Sunni Islam around the world for decades, believing that such support would protect and expand Saudi interests and influence.
For most of the past four years of the Syrian civil war, Turkey, a NATO ally, has turned a blind eye to the flow of jihadi fighters who passed through its territories to join ISIS or one of the other extremist groups fighting in Syria. This was a result of the political miscalculations and regional ambitions of Turkey’s leaders.
Other putative allies of the U.S. are either monarchies whose stability is hard to predict, or dictatorships like Egypt that are turning to policies of extreme repression and violations of human and civil rights.
One can argue that the U.S. will always have a strong and reliable ally in Israel. While this is true, Israel itself is going through its own political convulsions, and its current relations with our government are described to be at a historically low level.
The rest of the Middle East and most of North Africa are full of states that have collapsed or are in the process of collapsing. Into this chaos entered the criminal gang that calls itself the Islamic State group, which seems to recognize no boundary in violating all sense of decency and humanity in its bloody campaign. It is against this background that we should appreciate the promise of having closer and better relations between the U.S. and Iran.
To be sure there are many factors that may make a rapprochement with Iran difficult if not impossible. Some of these factors are internal to the United States and Iran, some are rooted in areas where the Iranian and U.S. interests diverge in fundamental ways. But it would be a fool’s errand to expect the two countries to agree on everything before they start speaking to each other or working together.
Since at least the turn of the 21st century, the Middle East has been going through a period of profound transformation. Some are describing the events in the region as wholesale destruction of the political order that was set up in the aftermath of World War I. What the Middle East will look like five to 10 years from now is impossible to predict.
If it is managed right, the United States’ engagement with Iran may introduce a rare hopeful note for the future of the Middle East, which, otherwise, is quickly filling with death and destruction and looks very bleak.