The theory that a pivot to Iran, sealed with an agreement regarding her nuclear program, will prevent the rise of a “Sino-Russo-Iranian condominium” in the Caspian Region and Central Asia have been around for many years, and, if we are to believe that they actually have a clear policy, this might indeed be what’s on the mind of President Obama and his trusted advisers, not to mention their myriad supporters in liberal think tanks and the halls of academia. Once reached, the deal will allow sanctions on Iran to be lifted, and this move, so the thinking goes, will gradually facilitate a rapprochement between Iran and the West, weaning her off of her growing reliance on Russia and China. Still, and while the theory can be made to sound compelling by its advocates, the rationale behind it is actually pretty lame if not downright delusional.
Indeed, the advocates of this theory speculate that Iran’s regional adventurism is mostly motivated by geopolitical considerations rather than ideology. A deal over her nuclear program should, therefore, remove any obstacles on the way to a full-fledged rapprochement. Moreover, the fact that Iran seems to be quite stable in comparison to some of her neighbors comes as a further inducement for seeking an accommodation with her at a time of growing turmoil in the region.
If only things were that simple and straightforward!
But history has shown time and again that geopolitical and ideological considerations are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, Iran’s autocratic leaders can be motivated by geopolitical considerations on certain issues, and ideological ones on others. More importantly, and depending on the prevailing conditions at a certain point in time, ideology could easily trump geopolitical considerations, and vice versa. The point is that Iran’s leaders are motivated by both sets of considerations, and one should not dismiss their anti-Western, anti-democratic and, on occasions, their anti-modern rhetoric as mere bravado behind which lurk a purely geopolitical mindset that will always prevail. Indeed, and irrespective of the aspirations of major segments of the Iranian people, the anti-Westernism (and anti-Americanism) of the ruling Iranian elite seems quite genuine and intrinsic to the prevalent thinking, even among the so-called moderates. The idea that a deal, no matter how favorable to Iran, would be sufficient to change this state of affairs is, simply put, fanciful. For this reason, Iran’s stability at this stage is not such a positive thing and it does not make it more reliable or good, but more troublesome and menacing than ever, as it will encourage her to become more radical, more defiant and more adventurous.
Indeed, with or without a deal, Iran’s attitude towards the West is not going to change so long as the current set of radical leaders is in charge. But a deal reached at a time when Iran is knee-deep in supporting genocide in Syria and various sectarian militias and death squads throughout the region would only legitimize the methods employed, the worldview that inspired them and the camp that implemented them. A deal with Iran at this stage would empower the radical elements and would make Iran more belligerent and adventurist than ever, and more oppressive and intolerant of dissent at home. Furthermore, and rather than distancing themselves from Russia and China, Iran’s current leaders are more likely to continue cultivating better relations with them, having strengthened their negotiating position in this regard, even as they continue to smile and sneer at the West, and take advantage of whatever economic opportunities that will come their way as a result of their perceived “openness.”
But analysts are correct in pointing out that cornering Iranian ruling elite would make them belligerent as well, and that they would naturally try to “defend” themselves and their “interests” by continuing their support of radical and terrorist groups throughout the region, and the world. This is indeed a natural reaction. But what is natural is not necessarily legitimate. There is little legitimacy involved in Iran’s current intervention in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. But, ideals notwithstanding, powerful countries always interfere in the affairs of their weaker neighbors for a variety of geopolitical and ideological reasons. This is power politics pure and simple, and on the basis of such considerations, one cannot but conclude that an Iran that is too powerful is not good for either regional or global security. Had Iran been a democratic power, the power politics would have unfolded differently, and diplomacy will have had ample opportunity to triumph. But Iran’s is an authoritarian regime, with more than a hint of anti-modern tendencies in its official ideology, this is why our options for dealing with her are limited.