Courtesy Reuters

An Unlikely Trio

Can Iran, Turkey, and the United States Become Allies?

In This Review

Reset: Iran, Turkey, and America's Future
By Stephen Kinzer
Times Books, 2010
288 pp. $26.00
Purchase

Insanity, it is often said, is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. When it comes to the Middle East, writes Stephen Kinzer, a veteran foreign correspondent, Washington has been doing just that. Hence, in Reset: Iran, Turkey, and America's Future, he proposes a radical new course for the United States in the region. The United States, he argues, needs to partner with Iran and Turkey to create a "powerful triangle" whose activities would promote a culture of democracy and combat extremism.

This is, of course, a counterintuitive argument. At the moment, Iran, with its radical ideology and burgeoning nuclear program, is one of Washington's biggest headaches. And although Turkey is a longtime U.S. ally, the U.S.-Turkish relationship has recently been tested. Last June, for example, Turkey's representative on the UN Security Council voted against U.S.-backed sanctions on Iran. These days, most of Washington is asking, "Who lost Turkey?" rather than envisioning more extensive cooperation with it.

Yet Kinzer's U.S.-Iranian-Turkish alliance is a long-term project, and the idea has ample grounding in the modern history of the region. Unlike other Muslim countries there, Kinzer shows, Iran and Turkey have at least a century's worth of experience struggling for political freedom, during which they "developed an understanding of democracy, and a longing for it." This means that they share some fundamental values with the United States. Moreover, Iran and Turkey have educated middle classes -- bases for strong civil societies. The two countries even share strategic goals with the United States: a desire to see Iraq and Afghanistan stabilized and radical Sunni movements such as al Qaeda suppressed.

CARROTS ARE FOR DONKEYS

Still, Kinzer's power triangle could not emerge in today's world. Iran, he writes, "would have to change dramatically" and turn into a democracy before such an alliance could be formed. How that would happen -- a truly daunting question -- is unclear, but in the meantime, Kinzer proposes

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