US Ambassador Ryan Crocker sat down yesterday with some officials from the Islamic Republic of Iran in the Iraqi Prime Minister's office. The topic of discussion was Iraq, but it's important that we note this one fact:
It's the first time in 27 years we've sat down at the same table for direct talks.
Ever since the Revolution of 1979 (and the 444-day hostage crisis that followed) the US and Iran have been studiously talking AT each other, and never TO each other. And all the while things have festered and grown between us. To quote The Bride in Kill Bill, "We have unfinished business."
You betcha. Starting with an apology for our CIA backing of the Mossadegh coup in the 50s (and don't think the Iranians have either forgiven or forgotten that incident), and all the way up to our continued sequestration of their assets since 1979, there are serious issues that need to be addressed. Among those issues are Iraq and the Islamic Republic's nuclear weapons program.
First, Iraq: Our invasion and occupation of Iraq was the greatest boon to Iran since 1991. By first emasculating Saddam Hussein's regime and then destroying it, we created a regional power vacuum that Iran was only too glad to fill (who did the neocons expect to see step into the gap, Israel?) and now we have to deal with them on that basis. Whether our troops leave now or in 2008 or 2020, Iran will still be there and in a position to dictate matters to the Sunni Gulf states.
Believe me, it's just pure nut-cutting Realpolitik. There's no way around it.
Iran has suggested that it shoulder the burden of equipping and training the Iraqi Defense Forces. Since it appears inevitable (based on the power calculations in the region) that Iran will remain the biggest fish in the pond even if we don't leave, it will be a friend to the majority Shiite government in Baghdad. Of course, "friend" eventually becomes "client."
Their envoy also stated that our presence in Iraq is an occupation, and in that he is certainly correct. More than half of the Iraqi Parliament have signed a bill asking for a withdrawal timetable; will Bush ignore that if it comes to a vote in Baghdad? Will the al-Maliki regime go the way of Nguyen Van Thieu's, to dredge up a tired analogy?
Now, for Iran's nuclear weapons - the Genie of the Atom was released from its lair on July 29, 1945. That was almost 62 years ago, and there's no way to stuff that genie back into its bottle no matter what the US does or how hard Bush stamps his little cowboy-booted feet. The Hiroshima bomb ('Little Boy' for those playing along at home) was so simple that it didn't need to be tested - the brains at Los Alamos knew it would work. To this day, the Hiroshima or gun-type weapon remains the simplest form of nuclear weapon.
No matter what we do - whether we bomb them ourselves or allow our catspaws in Tel Aviv to do the job for us - we are going to have to adjust to the new power realities in the region. We helped create them, and we'll be stuck with them for a long time to come.
And that's why talking to Iran matters.