Matthew Yglesias has an important post on the nature of Iranian influence in Iraq, and why our policy towards Iran is only making Iraq worse:
Petraeus and Crocker both seem committed to a “blame Iran for problems” approach to their hearings. In this context, it’s worth looking at this in the broader context of US-Iranian relations. Iran is adjacent to Iraq. The United States has no diplomatic relations with Iran, and the U.S. government has branded Iran a member of the “axis of evil” and suggested that we are aiming to overthrow the Iranian government. Under the circumstances, it would obviously be hugely irresponsible of Iran to just let us consolidate an Iraqi regime that’s to our liking.
This is, simply put, a fight the Iranians can’t back down from. It’s the difference between us worrying about Iranian influence in Iraq (cause for concern) and us worrying about Iranian influence in Canada (panic!). The Iranians, in short, are never going to stop backing different Iraqi factions and trying to advance their interests there. Under the circumstances, there are basically three realistic options we could pursue. One would be to simply leave Iraq and acknowledge that, in practice, it’s difficult for any outside actor to manipulate Iraqi events precisely to the outside actor’s liking (just ask the United States). Another would be to attempt a rapprochement with Iran on a higher level, which would lay the groundwork for US-Iranian cooperation in Iraq. A third would be to combine the two.
I think it’s clear that developing a rapprochment with Iran is essential for advancing American interests in the Middle East as a whole. A re-opening of diplomatic ties with Iran would mean that we could work in tandem on our common interests (nuclear proliferation, anti-al-Qaeda activities, Iraqi political stability), while at the same time making the Iranian government less hostile to pro-American attitudes, which could only help the pro-democracy movement within that country. Frankly, our current policy towards Iran is just bafflingly stupid.
UPDATE (James Joyner): We’re in agreement on this one. Just as we have every right to work to minimize Iranian influence in the region, Iran has every right to work to expanding its regional influence and otherwise achieve its interests.
It may be that the goals of the US and Iran in Iraq are mutually exclusive. But it’s silly to pretend — as we have on a bipartisan basis since 1979 — that we’re more likely to achieve our goals by refusing to talk with the Iranian regime.
UPDATE (Dave Schuler):No argument from me on this. It’s what I’ve been arguing for years. IMO the hard part is that Iran and the United States each has to recognize that the other has legitimate interests in the region.