Trita Parsi corrects some of the misconceptions which have muddied the debate over Iran. Here's a significant one:

“What Washington failed to recognize was that the policy of exclusion provided Iran with incentives to undermine US efforts. And the weakest link in the American strategy was the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Without successful peacemaking between the Israelis and Palestinians, America's new regional order could not be achieved and Iran would evade prolonged isolation, Tehran calculated. Though Iran wasn't solely responsible for the collapse of the peace process, it did contribute to undermining it by supporting rejectionist Palestinian organizations at a time when the United States was at the height of its power and when Tehran was in a very weak position. Today the tables have turned. Iran is rising and the United States is mired in Iraq. Instead of repeating a policy that failed under the best circumstances, we must recognize that Iran's propensity to act as the spoiler will decline when it is included, not when it's excluded.”

Iran understands that the issue of Palestine is such a salient one for the Arab public that it can frustrate U.S. policy in the region by keeping that conflict alive, knowing that much of the resulting outrage over Palestinian suffering will be directed toward Israel's patron, the U.S., and toward Arab and Muslim leaders who cooperate with the U.S. This, in itself, is a refutation of the notion that is periodically floated by American and Israeli hawks that the Palestinian issue is actually of minor concern in the Arab world, and who deny that resolving the conflict will show any real benefit for the U.S. It also indicates that any attempt at a resolution that does not involve Iran is not likely to succeed.

Parsi's article also gets at a larger point about U.S. involvement in the Middle East, one that I think all the Democratic candidates should be hammering on: At the end of the day, the competition between the U.S. and Iran is a competition between two hegemonic powers, not an existential struggle between the buff, rational, freedom-loving West and the irrational, less-frequently bathed, freedom-nonloving East. As Parsi points out, parade-ground rhetoric aside, every time Iran’s strategic goals have come into conflict with its ideological goals, strategy has won out over ideology. Unfortunately, President Bush's disastrous Middle East policies, its invasion and occupation of Iraq, its silence in the face of continuing Israeli colonization of Palestinian land, and its open belligerence toward the Iranian regime, have created a situation in which Iran’s strategic and ideological goals are largely in accord. And the major Republican candidates are all offering more of the same.

--Matthew Duss