Ali Ansari: Why should the Iranians help? Here's why

Ahmadinejad's faith stops him seeing how weak his economy is

Share

It is difficult to under-estimate the taboo which has been broken by the Iraq Study Group's suggestion that the United States seeks a diplomatic engagement with Syria and more particularly Iran, in order to alleviate its deteriorating situation in Iraq. There has been much hand-wringing and angst over the possibility of dialogue with Iran over the past year among members of the Washington establishment, but by and large these discussions have remained reassuringly abstract. Now the grand old men of US foreign policy have pronounced, and there can be little doubt that their conclusions make uncomfortable reading for those re-treading the dogma of "staying the course". At the same time, for all the apparent boldness of the recommendations, the authors have (had) to qualify their suggestions to the point of banality.

Some form of coherent and consistent policy towards Iran is essential for any successful conclusion to the Iraqi quagmire. Yet the report says nothing about how any approach to Iran should be constructed, relying more on a tactical change of course than the strategic rethink that is necessary. The report notes for example that collaboration with Iran has already occurred during the initial war against the Taliban, but strangely omits the now infamous "Axis of Evil" speech, which effectively derailed this opportunity for a deeper rapprochement. It adds that Iran has been reluctant to offer help on Iraq because of the "belief" that the US seeks regime change in Iran, but falls short of recommending ways of addressing this fear. It reiterates a long-held US view that "issues" can be dealt with separately and not holistically.

Given the due attention to the Middle East Peace Process as part of the overall solution, this stubborn adherence to categorisation, seems in this report to have been reserved for Iran, and reflects the dogged persistence of successive US policy makers to square the circle of contradiction as far as Iran is concerned.

Put simply, the report recommends that while Iran should be engaged on Iraq (because we need them), the issue of Iran's nuclear programme can be delegated to the UN Security Council, and should be dealt with separately. Quite apart from the fact that Iran's nuclear programme cannot be resolved in isolation, there is no indication in the report quite why the government of Mr Ahmadinejad should have any interest in helping the United States. After all, the view from Tehran is looking rather good. Iran has never looked so imperious, and indeed has much to be grateful to the Bush administration for, but if regime change and the threat of military strikes are still on the cards, then the suggestion that the US would like some help, may strike some in Tehran as perverse.

Moreover, the situation at home is not looking too bad either. The simmering crisis is facilitating a continued crackdown on dissent, a policy which is ironically assisted by the US insistence on the distinction between the various "issues". Put simply, Mr Ahmadinejad is reassured by the US focus on security - Iraqi or nuclear - arguments on which he can win easily, and their neglect of human security, issues with which one suspects, he may have some problems.

Mr Ahmadinejad is an ideologue who sees no merit in negotiation with the West, and indeed regards America's current difficulties as almost divine evidence of the justice of his views. Why change course now? It is this very complacency which may prove to be the ultimate flaw in Iran's position. "Staying the course", has been the undoing of America's position in the Middle East and ironically, Ahmadinejad, like Bush, is likely to be the author of his own misfortune.

If he chose to collaborate with the West, he could do so from a position of relative strength. What his faith will not allow him to see is that he may come to be undermined by his own economy. He is in the process of spending the vast reserves built up by the previous government, the country has suffered from a lack of investment and, paradoxically, is reliant on importing oil for domestic heating. All of which makes it vulnerable, not least to sanctions. "Staying the course" is in no one's interest.

Ali M Ansari is Director of the Institute for Iranian Studies at the University of St Andrews and author of 'Confronting Iran'

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Programmatic Business Development Manager

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: As the Programmatic Business Dev...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Ma...

Geography Teacher

£110 - £130 per day + TBA: Randstad Education Reading: Geography Teacher neede...

***Sports Graduate***

£50 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Preston: This role has arisen due to inc...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Scientists believe the discovery could lead to new treatments for loss of memory function caused by ageing and other factors  

We need a completely new approach to caring for older people

Carol Jagger
 

Daily catch-up: out of time, polling and immigration and old words

John Rentoul
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past