ISIL Crisis Could Improve U.S.-Iran Relations

A silver lining on a bad situation.


Terrorist group the Islamic State, or ISIL, presents a bleak picture of the future of the Middle East and America's involvement there. This week they brutally beheaded an American journalist. The organization controls oil fields and has a well-coordinated military force that is growing by the thousands. It threatens to collapse Iraq and is quickly drawing the United States into another ground war in that nation. There may be a silver lining, though: The effort to stabilize Iraq could improve U.S. relations with Iran.

"U.S.-Iranian cooperation is quite favorable" and "it is only natural that the two powers join forces … to meet the common threat," explains the intelligence organization Stratfor. "Tehran and Washington's concerns about the Islamic State transcend Iraq's borders and include common interests elsewhere in the region."

"Iran wields considerable influence in Iraq," suggests The Guardian, but with a terrorist group slitting throats just across the border and gaining steam, Iran has an immediate interest in snuffing out the threat of spreading instability. Tehran has already launched several ground and air attacks. Secretary of State John Kerry and President Rouhani have both been saying that the two nations could work together to end the ISIL threat, which is a 360 from typical, antagonistic rhetoric between America and Iran.

Stratfor notes that both will likely be quiet about whatever work they do together, due to the domestic unpopularity of the other. And, military coordination will be limited by both nations' fear of each other's intelligence apparatuses. Although the two nations haven't had diplomatic relations for decades, their coordination for a common goal is not unprecedented.

The United States and Iran have cooperated against a common jihadist enemy in the past, such as when they worked together to topple the Taliban regime following the 9/11 attacks. Relations quickly soured again when U.S. President George W. Bush's administration declared the Islamic republic a part of the "axis of evil" and when controversy over Tehran's alleged nuclear weapons program broke out in 2002. However, these tensions did not prevent the two sides from cooperating again in the U.S. move to effect regime change in Iraq in 2003.


To be sure, Iran has additional aims in the current situation. "If we agree to do something in Iraq, the other side of the negotiations should do something in return," Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said today. "All the sanctions that are related to Iran's nuclear program should be lifted."

AFP notes that this "is the first time that Iran has explicitly linked its readiness to work with the West in Iraq with a lifting of the crippling EU and U.S. sanctions imposed over its nuclear program." But, as Reason contributor Sheldon Richman has detailed, Iran doesn't pose a real nuclear threat, this request is not unreasonable. 

NEXT: Betrayed on Iraq, a Die-Hard Obama Supporter Is Burning All His 'Yes We Can' Stuff

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  1. So…they going to stop ending their legislative sessions with chants of Death to America?

    Snark aside, this regime has no interest in being buddies with us – only keeping us at arms length while they keep at their own brand of intervention (Lebanon, Syria, etc). Which is a pity, as the Persian people, as a whole, are pretty decent.

    1. Stop it Swiss. You are disturbing the reason narrative that Iran is a peaceful country who is only acting in response to US aggression.

      1. Were they flying kites?

        1. I’d think flaying kikes would be more within Iran’s usual MO…

          1. +1 Roose Bolton

    2. Well, they ought to show us *some* gratitude for knocking off Saddam Hussein for them and installing a pro-Iranian government in Iraq.

  2. To be sure, Iran has additional aims in the current situation.

    You don’t say? If we just let them build nuclear weapons and make Iraq and pretty much the entire Middle East into a vessel state, they will be happy to help us out a bit. Damn nice guys those Iranians.

    1. For Iraq becoming their vassal to mean anything, Iraq would have to be a single coherent entity.

      1. A nuclear armed neighbor tends to make people fall in line.

    2. wait, what’s a “vessel” state?

  3. There is no stability in Iraq without either a brutal dictator (maybe not even possible at this point) or giving Iran more power in the region. Take your pick.

    1. So you would yoke the Kurds to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, or put a dictator over them then?

      1. I’d split it up and give the Kurds full autonomy. There would be no more Iraq.

        1. That’d piss off the Turks and the Iranians. There are Kurdish regions in both and both deal with Kurdish separatists.

          1. Yes it would. There are no solutions that will make everyone in the region happy unless you include the one where the USA expends all of its military and diplomatic capital trying to keep 3 separate parties who hate each other in one unified state indefinitely.

            We can’t even get the Israelis and Palestinians to get along after 50 years. Trying to get the Sunnis, Kurds, and Shia to cooperate when there’s oil involved? Not likely.

            1. Trouble being, pissing off either Turkey or Iran = real possible of actual, full-blown war against countries who have real military capabilities and defensible territories.

              Piss off the Kurds and, well, the Kurds are still pissed off. Which is unfortunate for them.

              1. Turkey has been busy pissing us off for years. Screw ’em. They aren’t going to attack us.

                Iran has been stewing in a vat of pissed-offness about the US for a third of a century now. We might make them a bit madder, but so what? They’ll hate us, regardless.

                Support the Kurds.

  4. So, ally with the radical Islamist terror-exporting regime against the radical Islamist terror-supporting regime to increase the power of the radical Islamist terror-supporting regime in the region. Sounds good; where do I sign up?

    1. I think from a pragmatic, imperialist standpoint, letting Iran “go it alone” against ISIS, which they will, means Iran gains a whole lot of territory and a whole lot of oil, and doesn’t need to compromise its hard-line stance or hostile posturing in any way.

      Getting “help” from the US entails a different narrative – i.e. “let’s work together as secular states to combat these crazy extremists.”

      A lot of evidence points to the Iranian people being open to secularism and democracy, but they trust the West less than they do their own leaders (which isn’t a lot). The offer of cooperation can get Iranian leaders to soften up on the anti-West posturing, while also racking up some debts to the US.

      For the record, I think we just need to stay out of this shit, but if it were a big game of Diplomacy, and I were the US, I would *NOT* let Iran be the sole actor in expelling ISIS from Iraq.

      1. Iranian leaders don’t give two shits about their people and their desires, any more than the old Bolshevik hardliners did for the Russians’ desires.

        As for cooperation, I’ll simply say this: even without us cooperating with Iran and while trying to get Iraq out of Iran’s orbit, the ruling Shi’ite parties are modeled after Iran’s Revolutionary party to varying degrees and Iran will want some form of Shi’ite dominance in the country, esp oil-producing regions like the ones in Kurdistan. This exact scenario is what launched ISIS into power and will continue to exacerbate religious slaughter in the region. I for one don’t want any part of that. If Iran wants to get involved, I think they’ll drain troops and money the same way Iraq did when it tried to capitalize on Iranian weakness post-Revolution. That’s fine with me, and I don’t want one damned dime going towards the region without a viable endgame or practical manner in which Iran is de-radicalized rather than some pie-in-the-sky bullshit about “reaching out” and blather about the Iranian people’s hopes and dreams.

        1. “I don’t want one damned dime going towards the region.”

          Agreed. I’m simply speculating as to why some in our government may hesitate to let Iran attempt to inflate its power in the region without having *some* influence over it.

          1. Hey, I understand their argument. Those same hairs that went up when all my conservative friends were telling me how peachy it was going to be when Iraq was a democracy — those are the ones that are standing on end when it comes to the “plan” to play buddy cop with Iran. Our goals are so conflicting, and the consequences of Iran so destabilizing towards the large Sunni and other minorities in the region, that there is no hope of useful cooperation — and the vague intangibles of “trust with the people” and an IOU from the Iranian government aren’t even close to a worthy payoff for it. It’s the same caliber of high-minded, regional transformation nonsense I heard from the Iraq war people only this time applied to a state with a 30-year record of ignoring its own citizens and the siren song of civilization in favor of religious tyranny.

            1. I think you’re probably right, but if I have the US army in my pocket and I don’t have to pay for it and I don’t have to suffer the consequences of a mistaken action, I’m going to try to do something that might send a message to the Iranian people that the Great Satan is not so bad and *maybe* destabilize the Supreme Council’s hegemony, if just a little bit.

              Weigh that against allowing the Supreme Council to declare a victory over the Great Satan and taking credit for expelling the evil heretics from the region, and I don’t see it is a difficult decision at all.

      2. A lot of evidence points to the Iranian people being open to secularism and democracy, but they trust the West less than they do their own leaders (which isn’t a lot).

        I disagree. In Baghdad Without a Map, Tony Horwitz reports this exchange with a “demonstrator”:

        One of the demonstrators peeled off to rest by the curb, and I edged over to ask him what the mourners were shouting.
        “Death to America,” he said.
        “Oh.” I reached for my notebook as self-protection and scribbled the Farsi transliteration : Margbar Omrika.
        “You are American?” he asked.
        “Yes. A journalist.” I braced myself for a diatribe against the West and its arrogant trumpets.
        “I must ask you something,” the man said. “Have you ever been to Disneyland?”
        “As a kid, yes.”
        The man nodded, thoughtfully stroking his beard. “My brother lives in California and has written me about Disneyland,” he continued. “It has always been my dream to go there and take my children on the tea-cup ride.”
        With that, he rejoined the marchers, raised his fist and yelled “Death to America!” again.

        1. I’m unclear what this Baghdad demonstrator’s attitude is supposed to tell us about people in Iran?

          1. It’s actually in Tehran? forgot to mention that.

            The ordinary Iranian is more positive towards the US than the Iranian government but they demonstrate against the US because that’s what the government wants them to do.

            1. IIRC, this was during demonstrations in Iran after Khomeini’s death.

              Baghdad Without a Map covers much more than Iraq ? he chews qat in Somalia, takes note of the large number of Gaddafi portraits in Tripoli, notices how all the women on the plane from London to Tehran put on burqas when the announcement that they are descending into Tehran comes on…

            2. This is all so hard to say, really, because we actually know so little about Iran, even though pundits invariably pretend to be experts. It’s very much like speculating about the USSR pre-1992.

              People I’ve known who grew up in Iran say that anti-government sentiment there is strong, but that fear of the West (and fear of the consequences of another revolution) is stronger.

              On the other hand, those are ex-pats, so you have to take that as a pretty select group and not really representative. I would make the same argument about the people shouting “Death to America” in the street vs. how many people are at home not doing that? TV footage of people sitting at home not doing that doesn’t get a lot of play.

              But I have definitely heard from more people who have lived around the world than not that 99.9% of the people in the world don’t give two shits about all the things their leaders yell and scream about.

        2. How is that idiot any different from, say, a left-wing OSW protestor or any (pampered protestor for that matter), who shouts empty communist slogans while holding on to an iPhone or other technological gadgets?

          1. ^^ This. Doubly this.

          2. Unlike an Iranian, an American isn’t like to be fined or disappeared or anything for refusing to protest a foreign government.

    2. The funny thing about this is that I would bet you dollars to doughnuts that Evans and the rest of the Reason staff could wax poetic about the evils of the US supporting thugs all over the world in the name of fighting communism during the Cold War. These very same people now think aligning ourselves with the fucking Iranians to fight Al Quada is just a great idea.

      1. It’s fucking insanity. At least the client states directly allied to us were for the most part capitalistic and well-behaved outside their borders (e.g., S Korea and Taiwan).

        1. And while they may have wanted to kill their own people, they didn’t want to kill us.

  5. AFP notes that this “is the first time that Iran has explicitly linked its readiness to work with the West in Iraq with a lifting of the crippling EU and U.S. sanctions imposed over its nuclear program.” But, as Reason contributor Sheldon Richman has detailed, Iran doesn’t pose a real nuclear threat, this request is not unreasonable.

    Well you should have just started by noting that Sheldon Richman, world affairs expert and columnist extraordinaire, has already examined Iran and determined that the threat is non-existent! Thank God; otherwise I’d be just a scotch suspicious of a brutal Islamic/socialist state’s desire for nuclear weapons and its stated desire to wipe out regional powers.

    1. brutal Islamic/socialist state’s desire for nuclear weapons and its stated desire to wipe out regional powers.

      I didn’t know a state could have desires and state them. Or maybe certain people do. It would be nice to know exactly who and who not in order to have a more realistic perspective of the situation.

  6. Hey, we joined up with the Soviets to defeat the Nazis in WW2 and everything was peachy-keen between us after that, right?

  7. Is it ISIL or ISIS? This story can’t seem to decide.

    How about we stay the hell out of it and let Iran deal with ISI* however they want?

    1. ISIS is goofier (kind of like M.I.L.F) so I use it.

    2. Don’t forget “IS”!

    3. The statist that post here won’t go along with that.

      In fact, since you’re not with them in wanting to invade, carpet bomb civilians and occupy foreign countries in perpetuity then you are with the terrorists in their eyes.

      You are a threat to national security.

    4. Isn’t ‘I’s is’ ebonics?

  8. Why do so many big government statists post at a libertarian site?

    1. Why do companies lobby governments?

      1. The difference is that government, by nature, is corruptible. It is for sale.

        I doubt the people at Reason will start calling for occupying the Middle East due to your “lobbying” a libertarian site.

        Hopefully the big government statists will learn something while they’re here. Many some will finally realize that government isn’t the answer to the problems. Government itself is usually the problem.

        1. Exactly, governments are for sale? the bigger the government, the more there is to sale.

          Statists have to protect their rents just like lobbyists.

          1. Statists ARE lobbyists. They are the problem.

            Republicans and Democrats are the problem. Progressives and conservatives are the problem.

  9. Well maybe we should just bug the fuck out of Iraq and let Iran deal with it then.

    Why are we doing Iran’s dirty work?

    Oh, that’s right. It’s the Obama Administration. They don’t think strategically–their foreign policy is all about the news cycle.

    1. Even Hillary Clinton, basically, says that’s what the Obama Administration’s foreign policy is all about!

      1. Are you seriously going to believe anything Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama or George Bush has to say about anything?

        1. If Hillary Clinton, Obama’s former Secretary of State, suggests that Obama’s foreign policy is driven primarily by a desire not to be perceived as having done anything stupid in the media, then, yeah, I’m gonna cite that.

          …especially if I’m trying to communicate with people who supported Obama for president last go ’round.

          I mean, if I wanted to make the case that Obama’s foreign policy wasn’t driven by strategic thinking, but by the news cycle, why wouldn’t I reference his former Secretary of State saying the same thing, what, a week ago?

          You seem to have some strange but familiar thought processes, Jeffrey.

          Are you Tulpa?

          1. What’s a Tulpa?

          2. He’s too excited to call out impure Libertarians. I think he’s just new and overzealous.

            1. One of the problems with libertarian purity tests is that the people administering them often seem to have a skewed vision of what’s pure. …yeah, they’re often newly minted libertarians, too.

              Welcome aboard, Jeffrey! I think you’ll find that 90% of us agree on 90% of the fundamentals. And when you find something you do disagree with, it’s often an aspect of libertarian thought you maybe haven’t considered before.

              One of the great things about being a libertarian is that there is no orthodoxy. Or, maybe, it’s that there are so many orthodoxies! The Paultards, the Free Staters, the anarcho-capitalists, the miniarchists, the Objectivists, the paleo-libertarians, the LP people, et. al.; this is a place where we can all get together, exchange ideas, hold hands, and wish each other a merry fucking Christmas.

              Glad to have you with us.

    2. Please don’t tell me you’re a George Bush/Republican statist.

      That’s almost as bad as being a Barack Obama statist.

      1. How would the suggestion that we leave Iraq and let Iran deal with ISIS make anyone a George Bush/Republican statist?

        1. It doesn’t. If you want the US government out of all of it then you’re ok. You’re not looking to kill everyone.

      2. What’s the difference between a Bush statist and an Obama statist?

        1. There isn’t. Unless you’re a partisan hack and worship at the alter of the GOP.

          1. or the DNC.

            1. True. Either/or

  10. “which is a 360 from typical, antagonistic rhetoric between America and Iran”

    so… right back where were were?

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  12. It makes no sense to me at all that the Saudis are our allies and the Iranians are our mortal enemies. By all means let’s work together if we have a common enemy.

    1. It’s just a legacy of the Cold War.

      Once we get entangled in alliances like that, it’s hard to disentangle ourselves.

      1. It’s older than that. The U.S. and Saudi Arabia have had pretty good relations since we recognized them in 1933.

        We used to have good relations with Iran, before the Ayatollahs took over.

        1. Damn blowback!

        2. Our relationship with Iran went bad when they elected someone who wanted to nationalize BP’s oil assets in Iran.

          The CIA helped overthrow him in 1953 like they helped overthrow Allende in Chile in 1973.

          We supported the Shah for the same reasons we supported Pinochet.

          It was a Cold War thing.

  13. Well, I guess if we can ally with Stalin…

    I suppose the Poles should be happy they’re nowhere near the Iraq/Iran border.

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  15. Good Lord, Polyanna, what have you been smoking?

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