When Great Powers compete, you win.
Rivalry between Russia and the United States, according to this scenario, should lead both Great Powers to actively court states like Iran, offering various incentives, including cakes and Bibles. The constraints imposed by inter-imperialist rivalry, then, would make it very difficult for the US to adopt harsh, punishing policies toward Iran as these efforts would only benefit Russian influence in Iran.
Countries like Iran–the “targets” of such competition–presumably delight in the enhanced leverage afforded in a multi-polar world. The more fierce the rivalry, the greater the charm offensive.
And, in fact, there are some very intense Russia hawks within the US who adopt precisely this approach toward US-Iranian relations.
If you want to see an amazing list of Russia hawks, check out bi-partisan list of signatories to the “Open Letter” published in the Moscow Times in September 2004. The letter warns:
President Putin’s foreign policy is increasingly marked by a threatening attitude towards Russia’s neighbors and Europe’s energy security, the return of rhetoric of militarism and empire, and by a refusal to comply with Russia’s international treaty obligations.
If Russia hawks are united against the threat of Russian empire, they are quite divided on what this might mean for US relations with Iran.
Some Russia hawks explicitly endorse the strategy of courting Iran in an effort to pry it away from Russia.
Within the United States, the split among Russia hawks is most clearly evident within the halls of the conservative Hudson Institute. The Hudson Institute is united in its hawkish analysis of Russian imperial ambitions.
So intense is the anti-Putin sentiment over at the Hudson Institute that some of the think tank’s scholars approach Putin’s role in Beslan the same way conspiratorial thinkers in the US think about Bush’s role in 9/11. An uncanny resemblance, really: “The Russian authorities may have deliberately allowed the terrorists to take over the school in order to have an excuse to destroy them.”
Hudson Institute Splits on Iran
On the side of wooing Iran stands Hudson Senior Fellow, Lieutenant General William E. Odom, U.S. Army (Ret.).
Odom has made big news in anti-war circles for announcing, in no uncertain terms, that the US should “cut and run” in Iraq.
In Hudson Institute articles, he has also emphasized a very “dovish” approach toward Iran:
[T]he U.S. must informally cooperate with Iran in areas of shared interests. Nothing else could so improve our position in the Middle East. The price for success will include dropping U.S. resistance to Iran’s nuclear weapons program. This will be as distasteful for U.S. leaders as cutting and running, but it is no less essential. That’s because we do share vital common interests with Iran. We both want to defeat Al Qaeda and the Taliban (Iran hates both). We both want stability in Iraq (Iran will have influence over the Shiite Iraqi south regardless of what we do, but neither Washington nor Tehran want chaos). And we can help each other when it comes to oil: Iran needs our technology to produce more oil, and we simply need more oil.
Accepting Iran’s nuclear weapons is a small price to pay for the likely benefits. Moreover, its nuclear program will proceed whether we like it or not. Accepting it might well soften Iran’s support for Hezbollah, and it will definitely undercut Russia’s pernicious influence with Tehran.
One of the distinguishing characteristics about Odom’s approach to Great Power rivalry is that his charm offensive toward Iran also includes some tough love for Israel:
Most people are dealing with the symptoms, but we’re not dealing with the fundamental problems. I suggest that if we’re going to deal with Israel, they have to listen to us and follow what we say. They need to stop using the Old Testament as though it’s a property deed. The Mohawk Indians have a better claim on Manhattan than they do on the West Bank.
My hunch is that this kind of talk doesn’t go down so well with other Hudson Institute fellows, especially Senior Fellow, Meyrav Wurmser, the Director of the Institute’s Center for Middle East Policy.
Meyrav Wurmser is one of the most hawkish Likudnik Zionist voices on the US scene. She is also married to another Right Zionist, David Wurmser. David Wurmser once held the comparable “Middle East Policy” position at another conservative think tank, the American Enterprise Institute. Today, he is the chief Middle East Policy aide to Vice President Cheney.
For Right Zionists, wooing Iran is not an option.
If you want to know why some Russia hawks are unwilling to court Iran, the best explanation may be found in their relation to the Israel Lobby.
Cheney may once have wanted to court Iran with carrots rather than punish with sticks. But that strategy has been consistently blocked by the Israel lobby and its demand for sanctions.
Shorn of the opportunity to woo the incumbent Iranian regime away from Russia, Cheney will turn to the only remaining strategy, short of handing Iran to the Russians: regime change in Iran.
He will run into resistance from all those who favor engagement with Russia and Russia hawks who want to court Iran.
Cheney may be pretty isolated in his approach. Trouble is, he is also untouchable.