Fundamental Realignment and Regional Stability

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WASHINGTON — Over the past year, destabilization in the Middle East has accelerated at an alarming rate. The Syrian Civil War has spilled over into Iraq, and the Islamic State (IS) now controls significant swaths of territory on both sides of the border. The extremist Sunni group has managed to antagonize virtually all major stakeholders in the region, including Shi’as, Kurds and more moderate Sunnis.

The IS threat presents traditional foes—namely Iran and the United States—with the opportunity to work together in developing a durable solution. The extent to which the United States and Iran are able to find common ground on this issue could determine the success or failure of any attempts to bring lasting stability to the region. Collaboration could reshape Iran’s role in the region and its relationship with the United States in a fundamental way.

The U.S. has long sought to prevent Iran from gaining much influence in Middle Eastern affairs, with decidedly mixed levels of success. In the aftermath of the U.S. overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, Iran’s overwhelming influence in Iraq is evident, and U.S. efforts to counteract it since have been futile. Iran and Iraq share a 930-mile border, and the two countries have deep cultural and historical ties. Naturally, Iran has a standing interest in maintaining the stability of its western neighbor. It is time for the United States to come to terms with reality and give Iran a proper seat at the table.

Iran and the United States have plenty of reason to distrust each other, with more than 60 years of troubled history between the two countries. Moreover, Iran’s nuclear program remains by far the largest roadblock towards normalization. But coordination of efforts against IS could go a long way toward building trust and could pave the way for an eventual breakthrough in talks.

Undoubtedly, a rapprochement with Iran would rankle some of our existing allies in the region, most notably Israel and Saudi Arabia, both of which will continue to staunchly oppose such a move. But a thaw with Iran may very well lead to a fundamental realignment in the Middle East, leading to greater regional stability and allowing the United States to maintain a more sustainable foreign policy in the region.

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