Ezra Klein very kindly and graciously commented on a short leader I wrote earlier this week. In short, he thinks my views on Iran are simple-minded, which is fair enough. In truth, my thoughts on Iran are pretty involved, and I fear they’d take at least a couple thousand words to fully unpack. I am familiar with the highly unusual structure of the Iranian government, though it’s certainly true that I didn’t successfully describe all its curlicues and intricacies. In my professional capacity I don’t really have that luxury, at least not now.

Also, Ezra Klein finds it weird that I consider the United States a benevolent actor in Iraq. I guess that’s an honest difference of opinion. I’d add, briefly, that I’m not even sure the United States is an actor in Iraq, as various arms of our government are working at cross-purposes there. Also, I suppose it’s worth mentioning that I think Iran is right to pursue a more sophisticated nuclear energy infrastructure (they need it — they’re terrible at extracting oil from the ground, and then there is the difference between the international price and the subsidized domestic price), that the United States and Iran ought to have direct, state-to-state negotiations, and that Ahmadinejad is not the most powerful actor in Iran’s government. I suppose I thought this was rather far afield from the narrow point I was trying to make. And I still do.

As for Iran’s intentions in Iraq, I’m confident that they’d very much prefer the stability of the grave, so to speak, to other imaginable outcomes. It so happens that we’ve become the defender of Iraq’s minority populations — not our intention when we first invaded, to be sure. Note also that imperialist powers throughout history have justified their rule through an appeal to the safety and well-being of minorities. This is an interesting and important point, but it’s not certainly not enough to justify abandoning those minorities, and those elements of the majority that seek reconciliation under a broad-based government.

By now I think it’s painfully obvious that our invasion of Iraq was a catastrophic blunder. Does that mean the stability of the grave, under Iranian suzerainty, is preferable to a continued U.S. presence? It’s not at all weird that Iran wouldn’t want a powerful independent state on its border, e.g., a stable and unified Iraq allied with the United States. What I find weird is that we would think that accommodating Iran in its efforts to create a new vassal state would be an unambiguously good idea.

A brief note about “Ahmadinejad’s Iran”: yes, the clerics rule, but some elected officials reflect the interests of actors within the “deep state” better than others, and this compounds their influence. This is a thorny notion, to be sure, and I’m confident only that I don’t fully understand it. But my sense is that peeling the onion involves peeling away more than just one layer.