What if, even without US sanctions, Iran is geo-politically in decline?

That’s the question posed by Juan Cole, a Middle East expert and professor at the University Michigan, on his well-read blog yesterday. Just consider current regional dynamics:

If al-Assad falls in Syria and is replaced by a Sunni government of revolutionaries, they will be beholden to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey (and Libya), all of them Wahhabi or Sunni powers. They will likely punish Hizbullah for its support of the Baath government, and will support Sunni forces, including the Muslim Brotherhood, in Lebanese politics. If Hizbullah can’t replenish its stock of rockets, its geopolitical significance could decline, even as that of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood rises. The partitions in the following map, of Iraq and Afghanistan, are meant only to depict the regional divide over foreign policy, not to suggest an actual break-up of these countries (but who knows?)

A Sunni-dominated Syria might well exert influence in northern and western Iraq far beyond what Shiite-dominated Baghdad does. The Sunni Arabs of central, western and northern Iraq are chafing under the rule of Shiite religious parties, and resent Iranian influence. Mosul (now Nineva) Province famously was undecided after World War I which country to join– Turkey, Syria or Iraq. At Versailles, Clemenceau cavalierly gave Lloyd George Mosul for Iraq. The story is that Lloyd George felt he had gotten Mosul so easily that he regretted not having asked for more from his French colleague. Anyway, you wonder if Mosul’s choices might not open up again in the coming years, a century after Clemenceau’s friendly gesture to the UK.

Likewise, as the US withdraws from Afghanistan through 2013, with a final withdrawal of active combat troops in 2014, Iran’s allies in that country could be weakened in the face of a resurgent, Pakistan- backed Taliban.

The Muslim Brotherhood will likely benefit from Iran’s decline. If the new Sunni government in Damascus is tinged with Brotherhood influence, it may well reach out to Cairo and forge the strongest Egypt-Syria alliance we have seen since the failure of the United Arab Republic (comprised of Egypt and Syria, 1958-1961).

Photo by -Marey/Flickr

Jasmin Ramsey

Jasmin Ramsey is a journalist based in Washington, DC.