Putin: On to Iran?

You may be angry because you think Vladimir Putin has cheated the West of the war it was anticipating with Syria, or on the other hand you may think he has done well to resolve a threatening crisis peacefully, but in any event it’s recognised that he pulled off a skilful diplomatic manoeuvre, and one which may have lessons for the future handling of crises in the region.

For much of the last few months, the West was in Ultimatum Mode: do what we want or there will be consequences, and We will be the ones to judge whether You have done what We want. In a series of crises, like those of Kosovo in 1999, and Iraq in 2003, the West has been able to control the crisis and the surrounding debate in this way, and has successfully used, in effect, its own unwillingness to be persuaded as a justification for war. This time, it has been different, because the Russians have interposed themselves, and, tongue in cheek, have pretended to treat western concerns about chemical weapons as though they were serious, and not a pretext. In turn, it looks as if the West, having got itself into a right old mess, has decided to play along.

So the question obviously arises of whether the same trick could be pulled for Iran. Here the West is in another trap of its own making: full of resentment and anger at the Islamic regime for the last thirty years, it is condemned to keep searching for new reasons to justify its animosity. Like a dog continuing to chew a bone from which the last meat has long disappeared, it can’t stop without looking foolish. Maybe that nice fellow Vladimir could sort this one out as well? Is there something the West could pretend to want, which the Iranians could pretend was serious enough to negotiate about, and the Russians could pretend to guarantee? That might get everyone off the hook.


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