One may look with incredulity at Putin’s determination to copy the failed tactics of Washington, but who cares about the lessons of history? So, in yet another tactical coup, the world is now presented with a surprise new Russian air base…this time in Iran. Will Tehran, now reassured about its national security, be more willing to compromise, or will it waste its opportunity? Will a chastened Washington and a newly prominent Moscow now find grounds for cooperation?
Once again, Putin has seized the tactical initiative by copying US behavior to expand its military base network in the Mideast, bomb alleged terrorists, make the Mideast a more disturbed place but doing it all roughly in concert with Washington’s goals (“Gee, I’m only trying to lend a hand!”) Well, the last generation of U.S.-led military intervention in the Mideast has led to…where we now find ourselves, so it is quite possible that bipolar intervention might somehow lead to something better…if Moscow and Washington can quickly work out some rational compromise based on, for a change, non-military means. That compromise, however, will no doubt start with Moscow having bases in both Syria and Iran.
The good news is that this offers Tehran an opening to a more moderate stance on the grounds that it now has greater national security. A cornered state will take risks, while a secure state can afford to plan for the long term. Moreover, a state with a patron needs to consider the patron’s interests.Of course, Iran could interpret things differently, an outcome that will be impacted by A) the sincerity of Washington’s fulfillment of the spirit of the US-Iranian nuclear agreement and B) by the speed with which Washington and Moscow work out some arrangement to avoid a needless and dangerous regional rivalry.
Any rivalry between Moscow and Washington at this delicate point only opens the door for regional extremists (not all of them Muslim) to exploit the situation, leaving the rest of the world to clean up the mess. With Washington ineptly entangled, after all its hard-earned lessons, Putin seems determined to tread exactly where forewarned that quicksand lies. Do his repeated tactical surprises add up to a rational strategy?