Can Iran Become a True US Ally Again?

In light of the multitude and severity of troubles being caused in the Middle East by ISIS, particularly in Iraq and Syria, where that group is based, it is only natural for the United States to consider Iran as a potential ally in confronting the threat.  The most basic consideration, of course, is the fact that Iran has a powerful first-world military headquartered in the region and the means to deploy it to the nearby areas where it would be needed.  Additionally, ISIS, being a Wahhabi Sunni Islamic organization comprising mainly Arabic people, find themselves at odds with the majority-Persian Shia-style Muslims of Iran, who have reason to feel threatened by the rapid advancement and empowerment of ISIS.

What is particularly interesting to note is that prior to 1979, the United States would likely have never questioned enlisting Iran's aid in this battle.  For the majority of the 20th century, the U.S. and Iran enjoyed close, friendly relations, with the shah of Iran benefiting from his country's alliance with the powerful Americans, while the Americans enjoyed cordial ties with a major Middle Eastern power situated near their Cold War rivals, the Soviet Union.  The friendship between the United States and Iran would almost certainly have lent itself perfectly to the formation of an American-Iranian coalition against so obvious and so mutual a threat as ISIS, a group that would be unlikely to survive the perfect storm of precision air raids from the U.S. and powerful ground incursions by Iran.

Alas, things have changed in the three decades since the Islamic Revolution.  In 1979, the shah of Iran was overthrown, ending a tradition of secular monarchy that had held in that country for over 2,500 years.  What took its place was Iran's Islamic Republic, a fundamentalist Muslim regime that demands conformity to religious law and has become openly hostile to the United States.  This is ironic, because while Iran's government has regressed so that it now arguably languishes in a historic dark age, the people of Iran who are subjected to it are more progressive and free-thinking than ever.  A majority of Iran's population is constituted of young people under the age of 35, who actually admire the United States and its ideals of liberty and democracy and would be generally amenable to resuming the friendship that existed between the two nations before 1979.  Their government – over which they themselves have next to no direct control, despite the existence of an elected figurehead Iranian "president" who is almost totally impotent to enact actual policy – considers the United States a hated enemy.  They do not.

This currently prevailing dynamic between the United States and Iran – and between Iran's government and its people – makes any American-Iranian collaboration unwise, even in light of the mutual threat posed by ISIS.  Iran's use of ground forces against ISIS – the most solid contribution it could potentially make – would put its government in the position of legitimately projecting military power into Iraq and Syria, an opportunity it would surely use to its advantage.  The potential is strong for Iran's regime to destabilize Iraq's already fragile government and reshape it from a secular administration into an Islamic theocracy.  Meanwhile, in Syria, Iran may well choose to bolster President Assad's position and secure him as dictator, or – perhaps worse yet – install a new ruler of Iranian choosing.

Any of these scenarios would be a disaster for the West and the Iranian people alike, as they would serve to advance the interests and goals of a brutal and repressive regime that in no way represents its own progressive population.  Worst of all, the cooperation of Western superpowers would legitimize that regime.

It is imperative also that the United States take care not to allow Iran to use its potential assistance as a bargaining chip in diplomacy.  There are critically important negotiations ever ongoing concerning the attempts of Iran's regime to acquire nuclear weapons, and the temptation for their government to promise support against ISIS in exchange for less stringent attention from the U.S. and the world community is strong.  The two issues must be kept separate; Iran's help is not the boon it may appear to be.

However, it should never be questioned that Iran – an ancient, venerable civilization with glory in its past and future far outshining its current-day difficulties – has every right to empower and strengthen itself.  It is only the rulership of its present regime that makes it necessary to contain Iran in the moment.  Fortunately, there is hope that this can change.  There are those who would advocate drastic action to this end on part of the West, including military intervention and the use of economic sanctions against Iran, but both of these ideas would be disastrous if implemented, as ultimately they would only hurt the people they seek to help: the citizenry of Iran.  Moreover, such direct involvement by the West in the politics of Iran – which is, in the end, the business only of that nation and its people – is unnecessary as well as potentially counterproductive.

As previously noted, Iran's people are largely young, progressive in their ideologies, and unsympathetic to the myopic religious extremism of their government.  Their open-armed embrace of modern technology has equipped them with powerful tools, which arguably caught even their brutal regime off guard with the advent of the hugely popular Green Movement and its successful use of social media and other 21st-century communications technologies.  Such advances should continue to be encouraged as the strongest and surest means of enabling Iran's people to share ideas, discuss their place in the world, and ultimately – of their own will and accord – decide that it is time to sweep away the repressive regime under which they currently suffer.

In light of the multitude and severity of troubles being caused in the Middle East by ISIS, particularly in Iraq and Syria, where that group is based, it is only natural for the United States to consider Iran as a potential ally in confronting the threat.  The most basic consideration, of course, is the fact that Iran has a powerful first-world military headquartered in the region and the means to deploy it to the nearby areas where it would be needed.  Additionally, ISIS, being a Wahhabi Sunni Islamic organization comprising mainly Arabic people, find themselves at odds with the majority-Persian Shia-style Muslims of Iran, who have reason to feel threatened by the rapid advancement and empowerment of ISIS.

What is particularly interesting to note is that prior to 1979, the United States would likely have never questioned enlisting Iran's aid in this battle.  For the majority of the 20th century, the U.S. and Iran enjoyed close, friendly relations, with the shah of Iran benefiting from his country's alliance with the powerful Americans, while the Americans enjoyed cordial ties with a major Middle Eastern power situated near their Cold War rivals, the Soviet Union.  The friendship between the United States and Iran would almost certainly have lent itself perfectly to the formation of an American-Iranian coalition against so obvious and so mutual a threat as ISIS, a group that would be unlikely to survive the perfect storm of precision air raids from the U.S. and powerful ground incursions by Iran.

Alas, things have changed in the three decades since the Islamic Revolution.  In 1979, the shah of Iran was overthrown, ending a tradition of secular monarchy that had held in that country for over 2,500 years.  What took its place was Iran's Islamic Republic, a fundamentalist Muslim regime that demands conformity to religious law and has become openly hostile to the United States.  This is ironic, because while Iran's government has regressed so that it now arguably languishes in a historic dark age, the people of Iran who are subjected to it are more progressive and free-thinking than ever.  A majority of Iran's population is constituted of young people under the age of 35, who actually admire the United States and its ideals of liberty and democracy and would be generally amenable to resuming the friendship that existed between the two nations before 1979.  Their government – over which they themselves have next to no direct control, despite the existence of an elected figurehead Iranian "president" who is almost totally impotent to enact actual policy – considers the United States a hated enemy.  They do not.

This currently prevailing dynamic between the United States and Iran – and between Iran's government and its people – makes any American-Iranian collaboration unwise, even in light of the mutual threat posed by ISIS.  Iran's use of ground forces against ISIS – the most solid contribution it could potentially make – would put its government in the position of legitimately projecting military power into Iraq and Syria, an opportunity it would surely use to its advantage.  The potential is strong for Iran's regime to destabilize Iraq's already fragile government and reshape it from a secular administration into an Islamic theocracy.  Meanwhile, in Syria, Iran may well choose to bolster President Assad's position and secure him as dictator, or – perhaps worse yet – install a new ruler of Iranian choosing.

Any of these scenarios would be a disaster for the West and the Iranian people alike, as they would serve to advance the interests and goals of a brutal and repressive regime that in no way represents its own progressive population.  Worst of all, the cooperation of Western superpowers would legitimize that regime.

It is imperative also that the United States take care not to allow Iran to use its potential assistance as a bargaining chip in diplomacy.  There are critically important negotiations ever ongoing concerning the attempts of Iran's regime to acquire nuclear weapons, and the temptation for their government to promise support against ISIS in exchange for less stringent attention from the U.S. and the world community is strong.  The two issues must be kept separate; Iran's help is not the boon it may appear to be.

However, it should never be questioned that Iran – an ancient, venerable civilization with glory in its past and future far outshining its current-day difficulties – has every right to empower and strengthen itself.  It is only the rulership of its present regime that makes it necessary to contain Iran in the moment.  Fortunately, there is hope that this can change.  There are those who would advocate drastic action to this end on part of the West, including military intervention and the use of economic sanctions against Iran, but both of these ideas would be disastrous if implemented, as ultimately they would only hurt the people they seek to help: the citizenry of Iran.  Moreover, such direct involvement by the West in the politics of Iran – which is, in the end, the business only of that nation and its people – is unnecessary as well as potentially counterproductive.

As previously noted, Iran's people are largely young, progressive in their ideologies, and unsympathetic to the myopic religious extremism of their government.  Their open-armed embrace of modern technology has equipped them with powerful tools, which arguably caught even their brutal regime off guard with the advent of the hugely popular Green Movement and its successful use of social media and other 21st-century communications technologies.  Such advances should continue to be encouraged as the strongest and surest means of enabling Iran's people to share ideas, discuss their place in the world, and ultimately – of their own will and accord – decide that it is time to sweep away the repressive regime under which they currently suffer.