If you were Vladimir Putin, what would you think of Iran? You’d worry a lot about it, that’s what. Your own Russia is losing Russians, due to the usual grim demography that characterizes most of Europe. And, like the others, you’ve got a Muslim problem, with surging birthrates both within Russia and all along its borders, from Chechnya to the ‘stans. Lots of those Muslims are under Iranian sway. You know that well, having been trained in, and elevated by, the KGB, which was horrified to see radical mullahs and imams receiving money, Korans, and even weapons from the Islamic Republic. When Osama bin Laden claims that the defeat of the Soviet Empire was an Islamic victory, there’s a certain element of truth to his words, and you know that the Iranians want to build on that foundation to extend their power deeper into your domain.
You therefore want to see this regime destroyed. The last thing in the world that you want is a gigantic Chechnya, armed with nuclear weapons, launching waves of fanatical terrorists against infidels like you.
But you don’t have much of an army any more, and anyway you don’t want a war with the mullahs. Direct attack is not your way; you prefer cunning. You’d rather have someone else do your dirty work for you. Someone like Israel, or better yet, the United States. And best of all would be to get the Americans to do it in such a way that the whole world condemns them for it.
The first step is to convince the Iranians that you’re their most reliable ally and their smartest friend. So you stand up for them in the big assemblies of global public opinion, you decry the sanctions aimed against them, and you — whose country after all has provided the Iranians with nuclear technology ever since Clinton and Gore approved it — swear up and down that there is no evidence of a nuclear weapons program in Iran. You organize regional conferences to flatter the mullahs, you even fly to Tehran to meet with the Supreme Leader, thereby elevating his status. And all the while, you whisper to them that they are strong while the Americans are weak, that they can do anything they wish to the West, for the West has no stomach for further confrontation. You famously sell them an advanced air defense system with which they can protect their nuclear facilities in the event the Israelis or the Americans lash out.
You assure them of your unqualified support, and urge them on to intensify their war against the Americans. This is not just a matter of diplomatic tactics. Unlike the Americans, your people have long operated inside Persian borders. Some of those bearded and beturbaned fanatics depend on you for money and opium, and for the blonde haired women in your embassy and consulates. You have real influence, and you use it to advance the careers of the most fanatical zealots, people like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, people who do not want to charm the Americans, but antagonize them. Ali Larijani was too charming, and you managed to move him out to be replaced by the monotonous Jalili, renowned for his lack of elegance and his aggressive strategy of enlisting Latin American leftists to encircle the Americans.