What is to become of the standoff between America and Iran? According to Friedman, sanctions cannot be effective against Iran, as the only meaningful one would be on gasoline (Iran imports 35% of its gasoline – I’d love to know why they need to do this when they have so much oil – can they not refine it?), and China and Russia will not play along with that particular sanction. Military strikes carry too much risk: they require good intelligence and massive bombardment with undoubtedly high casualties, with no guarantee that nuclear facilities will be destroyed. Plus, should such attacks occur, Iran is certain to launch counterattacks on Israel via Hezbollah, and on American forces in Iraq via its proxies there. Worst of all, Iran has the power to drive global oil prices through the roof by mining the Strait of Hormuz and launching missiles at any ships in that vital passage. For all of these reasons, STRATFOR does not find US or Israeli military strikes on Iran likely.
With diplomatic and military options ruled out, can America prevent Iran from developing nukes? Friedman argues that this is not as important as checking Iranian power in the region. We need Iran’s help, much as we needed the help of some other unsavory characters in the past:
Roosevelt and Nixon both faced impossible strategic situations unless they were prepared to redefine the strategic equation dramatically and accept the need for alliance with countries that had previously been regarded as strategic and moral threats. American history is filled with opportunistic alliances designed to solve impossible strategic dilemmas. The Stalin and Mao cases represent stunning alliances with prior enemies designed to block a third power seen as more dangerous.
It is said that Ahmadinejad is crazy. It was also said that Mao and Stalin were crazy, in both cases with much justification. Ahmadinejad has said many strange things and issued numerous threats. But when Roosevelt ignored what Stalin said and Nixon ignored what Mao said, they each discovered that Stalin’s and Mao’s actions were far more rational and predictable than their rhetoric. Similarly, what the Iranians say and what they do are quite different.
Could the Roosevelt-Stalin and Nixon-Mao alliances provide a model for an Obama-Ahmadinejad/Khomeini Khamenei [oops, confused my mullahs there] rapprochement? Friedman’s whole article is worth a read.