BASRA AND IRAN….Trudy Rubin on one of the lessons of Basra:

Most galling to U.S. officials was this: When the going got tough, top Iraqi Shiite officials rushed to the holy city of Qom in Iran to get help mediating a Basra cease-fire with Sadr….In other words, Iraq’s leaders had to turn to an Iranian we label a “terrorist” to get Maliki and his American backers out of a jam. The commander of the Quds Brigade apparently told Sadr to cool off.

….We do know — as the Basra affair showed — that Iran is crucial to any Iraq solution. And here is where the next president will have an opportunity to try something different — with Iran.

Iranian officials are clearly awaiting the next American leader. I was told as much by the Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki at the Davos World Economic Forum. The United States and Iran have common interests in avoiding total chaos in Iraq (although the Iranians will continue to stir the pot, so long as they suspect Iraq is a base for U.S. efforts at regime change in Tehran).

The next White House occupant, unburdened by the rhetoric of “axis of evil,” can explore whether broad talks without preconditions might enable Washington and Tehran to cooperate on Iraq. That, in turn, would facilitate a U.S. drawdown. Even John McCain will have to consider such newthink if he wants to prevent a U.S. military meltdown.

Jeff Weintraub keeps telling me that I should read Rubin more often. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t (her columns are here). The problem is that her pieces usually strike me as sort of safely sensible, but only occasionally do they tell me something I didn’t already know. So I end up reading a couple of them and then wandering off to the glitzier quarters of the blogosphere to look for more stimulation.

Still, no arguments with this one, and it can hardly be said often enough that ignoring Iran and hoping they’ll go away is among the more idiotic foreign policy positions in America today — and a sadly bipartisan policy, unfortunately. There’s obviously no guarantee that Iran will respond positively to American overtures in the future (their past record on this score isn’t especially promising) but for the first time in a while both sides really do have a strong incentive to work out some kind of modus vivendi. From there, who knows? But the alternative, as near as I can tell, is to keep them on the terrorist fringes forever while pushing them into an ever-closer embrace with China. How that’s preferable to some regular high-level chatting — and perhaps even the re-opening of an embassy in Tehran — is an enduring mystery.