Iranian president Hassan Rouhani
(image by AFP Photo/Atta Kenare)
It's also as if a genie had emerged from an Arab Spring lamp somewhere, "illuminating" the Obama administration's perception. No democracy flower bloomed out of this "Spring." Egypt is back in a de facto military dictatorship. Libya, bombed by NATO, was reduced to a failed state. Syria was hurled into a foreign-imposed civil war. And Bahrain's legitimate democracy drive was quashed by...Saudi Arabia.
Not to mention that any sort of regime change-style "Spring" is out of the picture in Iran.
So why not talk -- starting with the nuclear program?
Tehran's nuclear program represents most of all an affirmation of regional power. But Rouhani, to his credit, has seen its limits; how it was being perceived by the West as an apocalyptic threat, and how the economic repercussions of the nasty sanctions package was alienating Iranian public opinion.
All this while Obama, with the US out of Iraq and on its way to being (partially) out of Afghanistan, also needed geopolitical repositioning.It's "pivot to Persia" time
Once again; the heart of this immensely complex matter is the Washington-Tehran relationship.
"Great Satan" vs "Axis of Evil": frankly, that's the stuff of childish cartoon politics. What really matters now are strategic interests doing away with ideology -- as much as between China and the US in the early 1970s before that "Nixon in China" moment.
It's totally unrealistic to expect Washington to "pivot away" from the Middle East, whatever happens. But the Mob racket involving Washington and the House of Saud is a pitiful anachronism. I'm making a public bet: if Tehran were to promise Washington it would always stay within the petrodollar system, a deal about anything would be clinched in no time.
A deep strategic alignment between Tehran and Washington is also wishful thinking -- or something that might happen beyond 2020 (when, by the way, China will be the number one economy in the world).
Nevertheless, some consequences of even a partial rapprochement are obvious. Both Washington and Tehran are fighting Salafi-jihadists. The House of Saud switches Salafi-jihadists on and off; it's OK if you bomb and behead in Iraq or Syria, but not here in Saudi Arabia. It's not hard to do the subsequent math.
We're just at the very beginning. Take a good look at this fascinating debate promoted a month ago by the National Iranian American Council (NIAC).
Amid some obvious absurdities, serious points are made about the enormity of it all. And yet, the real thing beckons.
Assuming a nuclear deal (after an interim deal that might be clinched next week or before the end of the year); and assuming the end of sanctions (a long battle between the Obama administration and Capitol Hill), all bets are off.
Imagine Washington-Tehran fighting jihadism together. The US corporate world is already deep into wet dreams of investing in Iran's energy industry and market. As Tehran's number one priority is to get rid of the sanctions, it will be fascinating to watch how Washington will deploy its carrots.
Picture Washington teasing Tehran into allowing US corporations to get contracts on equal footing with Iran's allies China and Russia. Tehran may well use US corporations -- as well as European and Asian -- to kick start the economy while Washington will use its extended leeway in the whole of Southwest Asia to cut those Wahhabi paradises to size.