Discussions of Western policy towards Iran have a numbing inevitability to them. You're going to hear about the sanctions option, which is always there as a way of warding off the Israeli bombing option. Two flavors - is that all we have to choose from?
The weekend's deadly attack in Iran's Sistan-Baluchistan region should be of concern in capitals other than just Tehran. And not only because of intemperate Iranian accusations of US or British involvement, which are probably ludicrous. [UPDATE: Or perhaps not so ludicrous: see Washington Note post by Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett]. It would appear that the Anglo-Americans have quite enough on their hands without poking the eyes of the Iranians, especially in an area where they have little or no leverage. After all, it was only last week that Baluchis on the Pakistani side expressed fears of US drone strikes in their region, which were apparently nixed by Islamabad.
Thankfully we are no longer in the era of George W. "Axis of Evil" Bush, whose neat phrase lumped together two deadly enemies - Iraq and Iran - by simple conflation. They were both Muslim-majority countries opposed to the United States - what more do you need? Bush's crusade against Saddam eliminated the one enemy who had bloodied Iran, and so delivered Iraq into the Shia camp. Blowback of which I am sure we will hear more as the US wearies of the occupation.
So why, when contemplating Iran policy, are we limited to options that are more worthy of Bush than Obama?
President Obama, after all, is He of the open hand reaching out to the clenched fist. It's depressing that we are still arguing about Bomb Iran versus Sanction Iran, without considering Co-opt Iran. Yes, use shared concern over ever-widening arcs of instability, eddying out from their epicenter in Afghanistan. Pakistan is belatedly trying to deal with multiple insurgencies on its periphery, which, according to Mark Sappenfield of the Christian Science Monitor, won't necessarily help across the border: "All the major terrorist networks attacking US forces in Afghanistan operate from other areas of Pakistan."
Let's use some of the momentum from today's Vienna 4-way nuclear talks to encourage Tehran to expand the diplomatic option. How about it, Iran: tired of importing natural gas when you're sitting on some of the world's largest reserves? Find importing gasoline a tad expensive when you actually export the raw material?
In a neighborhood like Af/Pak, wouldn't you want to ensure a bit of stability in the surrounding countries? India, large, dynamic, democratic to the east. Central Asia to the north, with its economies trying to transition from Soviet command to capitalism. And Iran to the west, looking to the west and its markets rather than obsessing about the Great Satan.
Alistair Crooke, writing in Conflicts Forum, questions whether the West (and the Arab Middle East) is again ready to consider Iran as a regional power, as it was under different management. Whatever the answer, the recent trouble on Iran's Pakistan border may cause some policy makers - Iranian, American, and others - to consider shared interest in stability, in a region where that is in very short supply.
Image: Af/Pak coffee mug, available through Diplopundit.