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By Micah Halpern

Thursday April 2, 2009


In the year 1532, when Niccolo Machiavelli wrote The Prince he could never have dreamed that his ideas would ring true even until today. He could never have dreamed that arch enemies, The United States and Iran, would bond over a relatively insignificant country called Afghanistan.

The United States is at diplomatic war with Afghanistan. Iran is at diplomatic war with Afghanistan. The United States and Iran are united in their different wars with Afghanistan. Confused? That's foreign policy for you.

A cardinal rule in foreign policy is that there are no best friends. There are best interests. And foreign affairs work best when there are mutual best interests between countries.

So, yes, diplomatically speaking, the enemy of my enemy is my friend - but my best interests come first. And that explains how the unlikeliest of buddies, the United States and Iran, sat down together to discuss the problem called Afghanistan.

The United States experiences no greater global tension than in its dealing with and about Iran. And yet, in a desire to control the threats emanating from a third country these two countries, diametrically opposed on every other issue, sat down together at a United Nations sponsored summit held this week in The Hague dedicated to discussing, dissecting and neutralizing Afghanistan.

The idea belonged to United State Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Iran jumped on board immediately. Iran had two reasons for agreeing to the secretary of state's suggestion. Firstly, Afghanistan is a true problem for the international community and Iran recognizes how important it is to solve the problem and solve it effectively. Secondly, Iran wants to show the Arab world that it can work side-by-side with the United States to solve some issues.

Don't get too carried away, now. The Summit pitted the United States and Iran against Afghanistan but that is where the mutuality ended. The summit also pitted the United States and Afghanistan against one another in terms of each country's style of operation, specific complaints and endgame solutions.

Iran wants no outside forces in Afghanistan. By outside forces Iran means no non-Muslim forces in Afghanistan. Right now, the United States is not only a force in Afghanistan, it is a significant force in Afghanistan and getting ready to increase their presence there. Looking at the situation from Iran's point of view, Iran borders Afghanistan and having US soldiers in Afghanistan makes it all the easier for those soldiers to saunter on over and enter Iran. Iran also borders Iraq. That puts Iran in the middle of two countries playing host, invited or uninvited it makes no difference, to US forces. In other words, Iran is surrounded on the north by way of Afghanistan and in the south by way of Iraq.

Despite Iran's desire to rid the region of the United States the deputy Foreign minister of Iran, Mehdi Akhundzadeh, agreed to an understated albeit significant meeting with Richard Holbrooke, President Obama's personal troubleshooter for Afghanistan. The meeting was brief. The outcome was a decision to keep in touch. This kind of discussion, on this diplomatic level, is less important for what happened at the moment than for what might happen in the future. A door has been opened and when and if the need arises, and we know it will, these two men can walk through that door again.

The honest truth is that there has been no serious change in United States policy toward Iran. In diplomacy you need backdoors in order to deal with substantive issues on the ground. And there has been no serious change in Iranian policy toward the United States. The final outcome aside, Iran had its own objective in agreeing to this meeting.

Iran was poking fun at the United States in front of other Muslim countries and the almost one hundred countries in attendance at the summit. Iran was using this opportunity to show the rest of the Muslim world how they can and will boldly make their Muslim agendas known to the United States. Iran was standing up for Muslim hegemony. Iran was saying that the major obstacle to real solutions in the region is the aggressive meddling of the United States and Iran was saying it to their face. Iran is making a regional play, hoping that resentment toward US interventionism will sway countries back in their direction.

Iran and the United States have had a modicum of success in the past when they joined forces in collaboration in the war against drugs. And at this summit the United States and Iran again agreed to start working together to curb the drug trade that empowers many of the Afghani warlords.

Two steps backward, one step forward. At least there’s a step in the right direction.

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4 June 2017 12:13 PM in Columns

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