Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 14:00 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 14:00 | SYDNEY

Reader riposte: Iran as regional power


Sam Roggeveen


19 March 2010 14:12

Vanessa Newby, a PhD candidate at the Griffith Asia Institute (that makes two of those today) writes:

Raoul Heinrichs makes a good point about the potential for Iran to extend its power in the region after a US troop withdrawal. But at this stage it should only be seen as potential and nothing more. 

He should be clearer about exactly what influence he thinks Iran plans to project into Iraq. He mentions military incursions, but it's hardly likely that Iran is going to risk reinvigorating military confrontations with Iraqi forces, unless the Supreme Leader has a breakdown and decides it's the only way to recover his political legitimacy. It's no secret that maintaining the security of oil supplies in the Gulf is a key US priority, so it's unlikely Iran is under the impression that US troops are going very far away.  

If we are talking about the 'invisible threads' of influence that Iran can weave in Iraq through its Shi'ite connections, recent works by Rodger Shanahan and Laurence Louer have demonstrated that national concerns predominate over religious networks in most cases. In terms of political influence, Shi'ite Iraqi political parties might maintain good relations with Iran, but getting too close is not a domestically popular move. 

As for the nuclear threat, Stephen Walt's comments in Foreign Policy succinctly sum up Iran's potential for regional hegemony:

Iran's population and economic potential raise the possibility that it might one day be the dominant power in the Gulf, but it is nowhere near that capacity now. Getting a nuclear weapon won't change that fact, because nuclear weapons are only useful for deterrence and confer little positive leverage over others.

Finally, in order to influence others, the hard power of a good economy comes in handy, and as Iran's economy is in a pretty poor state right now, it's unlikely that Iran will have a lot of economic leverage over Iraq in the future.