Partner with Iranian Moderates

February 01, 2016
As presidential candidates demonize Iran under the guise of national security, Saudi Arabia and their Sunni Gulf state allies are flooding the markets with their light crude oil in an effort to destabilize the Iranian economy to the subsequent benefit of the Saudi Kingdom's Sunni extremist beneficiaries, American defense companies, and American drivers alike. Iraq, Syria, and Yemen today, just like Iraq 10 years ago, are proxy wars between Iran and Saudi Arabia that America should not be involved in, but are due to our dependence on oil. America's involvement in these wars is personal, for while I was on leave from Baghdad on Nov. 30, 2006, a likely Iranian roadside bomb destroyed my Humvee and killed my gunner. With a keen understanding of America's history with these two rivals, until we become energy independent, I maintain the hawkish candidates are misguided, and Iran, not Saudi Arabia, should be our closest partner in the region.

The 14-century old rift between the now Sunnis and Shia, over the proper heir to the Prophet Mohammed, is a driving factor between the proxy wars between Saudi Arabia, a holy land because it controls today's Muslim world's epicenters of Mecca and Medina and Iran, which has the world's largest Shia population. In 1938, several years after Ibn Saud solidified his absolute ultra-conservative Sunni monarchy, Standard Oil of New York discovered the king controlled now the world's second largest oil reserve. The Kingdom's resulting wealth has led to Saudi Arabia's extreme inequality, financing to export Wahhabism, and strong ties to the American defense industrial complex. Meanwhile, in 1953, the CIA removed the secular, democratically elected, Time Magazine Man of the Year Mohammad Mosaddegh as Iran's prime minister for nationalizing the world's fifth largest oil reserves away from the oil company we now call BP. The blowback from American support of the Shah's subsequent rule came to fruition in 1979 with his overthrow, the hostage crisis, severing of all diplomatic relations, and the embargo.

A quarter century ago, the United States went to war against the secular Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein for threatening the Saudi monarchy's oil reserves and then ousted him after Saudi extremists attacked us on September 11th. Meanwhile, the United States labeled Iran a member of the “Axis of Evil,” which strengthened the hardliner Revolutionary Guard within Iran, which seeks to strengthen Shia and destabilize Sunni governments in the region through their proxies like Iraq's Mahdi Militia. America's 2003 disbanding of Saddam's Army allowed the Mahdi Militia to conduct reprisal attacks against the recently unemployed and armed Sunni soldiers. Several of these Sunnis would radicalize, join foreign extremists to form Al Qaeda in Iraq, and destroy a Shia holy site in Samara in 2006, which caused Iraq's sectarian civil war to overwhelm the American forces that were being attacked by both the Sunni militants and the Mahdi Militia. The American troop surge began the following year and eventually brought temporary order for a political solution between the Shia majority and Sunni minority that never was found, resulting in Al Qaeda in Iraq creating the Islamic State, which Iran's Syrian, Iraqi and Lebanese proxies are on the ground fighting today.

Implementing the orthodox rhetoric of American hardliners such as “undoing” the nuclear deal, more Iranian sanctions, and imposing a no fly zone in Syria would endanger our national security. First, the nuclear deal between numerous countries cannot be undone by the withdrawing of the United States, a goal American and Iranian hardliners share. Instead, America's goal should be to get all countries in the region to give up their nuclear ambitions and arsenals. Second, dialogue and not more sanctions could strengthen the pragmatic moderates like Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, weaken their hardline Revolutionary Guard rivals, and build better relations with the young Iranians whose secular political activism could bring about eventual change. It was dialogue that allowed for the recent prisoner exchange and release of our 10 sailors unharmed with all of their gear and weaponry after just 15 hours of captivity. Finally, imposing a no fly zone in Syria to shoot down Russian, Syrian or Iranian aircraft would risk a larger war that the Islamic State would watch from the sidelines. Instead, the United States should work with Iran towards an acceptable replacement to Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, which is the only way the Islamic State can be defeated.

In 2006, the Shia soldiers of the reconstituted Iraqi Army Battalion we were advising were loyal to the Mahdi Militia and turned a blind eye towards their sectarian violence against Sunnis. Worse, during the troop surge, our battalion was responsible for manning all checkpoints entering Sadr City, the Mahdi Militia's stronghold, meaning as Americans we provided protection to some of those killing us. We did not belong in that proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran then, just like we do not belong in one between the two nations today. However, until America becomes energy independent, we should vote for presidential candidates willing to challenge orthodox hardline rhetoric, push for diplomatic relations, and work with Iranian moderates towards stabilizing the Middle East.