There are a number of states in the seam between the functioning core of the global economy of Europe and the Gap. These range from countries in the process of integration into Europe — like Ukraine, Georgia, and Turkey — old outposts in the Gap — like Israel — and small oil-based economies, such as Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. While the Iraq War of 2008 has been successful in rolling back Baathism and al Qaeda in Iraq, it has so far failed in its attempt to make Iraq an obviously good model for hte rest of the greatest middle east. Iraq, for all our efforts, is still in the Gap.
Fortunately, Barack Obama (who becomes our President this month) has an opportunity at an even greater prize: Iran.
Iran is more populous and culturally more developed in Iraq. It has a greater ability to project power, and hence to make piece. It is increasingly integrated with the economies of our friends (Azerbaijan, Turkey, India, China, and so on), and is useful in our containing rogue states like Russia:
Making the task even more labyrinthine is the fact that for many of those years, Iran was actively working against the Russiaâ€™s interests (or vice-versa) in one area, while in another area they worked together harmoniously. One example of this is the nexus of civil wars in Tajikistan and Afghanistan in the early 1990s. Tajikistan, the poorest of the former Soviet states, dissolved into chaos in 1992. Russia backed the establishment communists for the sake of stability, while Iran entered the fray by supporting the opposition, which it mistook to be an Islamic revolutionary movement.
In the new millennium Iran and Russia adjusted to the new American presence in the Middle East and Central Asia. For a few years, both countries turned away from each other and towards the US. In Afghanistan, neither put up any obstacles to scattering their old foes, the Taliban. Then in 2003 the US invaded Iraq, and although Iran approved of former Iraqi president Saddam Husseinâ€™s ouster, the large American presence in another bordering country was too threatening to accept. Russia found itself at odds with America over oil contracts in Iraq, regretted its loss of prestige in the United Nations Security Council, and began to drift back towards Iran.
Friendship with Iran would do more than just bring geographical continuity to the Near-Eastern Seam. It would help cement the positions of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Turkmenistan, all of which are permanently’ Iran’s neighbors and presently in the Gap. It could bring security to Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, and the U.A.E., which are seam states near Iran. Economic investment in Iran would cement Europe’s relationships with the near-east, and providing a nuclear umbrella to the region would provide safety for Israel, as well.
Many of them instinctively reverted to the polarities of the old Cold-War paradigm and saw Russia threatening an ideological ally of the United States. More important for the long term, though, the projection of Russian strength into the Caucasus sent an implicit message to Iran about who the real power is in the region.
There is much to be done in the near-east. Moving those countries off of oil (and reducing the power of oil-rich rogue states like Russia) requires us to invest in batteries, biodiesal. hybrids, and other new technologies. We have to spread those technologies to new core powers like India and China, too.
But don’t forget the geopoltiical component. Iran is a useful friend in a critical neighborhood.
I hope President Obama makes it a priority to bring at first detente, and then build a strategic partnership, between the United States of America and the Islamic Republic of Iran.