Iran in the short-term may have been strengthened by a weakened Iraq, U.S. losses and acrimony over the war. Yet a constitutional Iraq of free Sunnis and Shiites may soon prove as destabilizing to Iran as Iranian subversion once was to Iraq. Nearby American troops, freed from daily fighting in Iraq, should appear to Iran as seasoned rather than exhausted. If Iraq is deemed successful rather than a quagmire, it is also likely that our allies in Europe and the surrounding region will be more likely to pressure Iran.
These shifting realities may explain both the shrill pronouncements emanating from a worried Iran and its desire for diplomatic talks with American representatives.
Other rogue nations -- North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba (not to mention al-Qaida itself) -- also do not, for all their bluster, think that or act like an impotent U.S military is mired in defeat in Iraq.
Meanwhile, surrounding Arab countries may soon strengthen ties with Iraq. After all, military success creates friends as much as defeat loses them. In the past, Iraq's neighbors worried either about Saddam Hussein's aggression or subsequent Shiite/Sunni sectarianism. Now a constitutional Iraq offers them some reassurance that neither Iraqi conventional nor terrorist forces will attack.
None of this means that a secure future for Iraq is certain. After all, there are no constitutional oil-producing states in the Middle East. Instead, we usually see two pathologies: either a state like Iran where petrodollars are recycled to fund terrorist groups and centrifuges, or the Gulf autocracies where vast profits result in artificial islands, indoor ski runs and radical Islamic propaganda.
Iraq could still degenerate into one of those models. But for now, Iraq -- with an elected government and free press -- is not investing its wealth in subsidizing terrorists outside its borders, spreading abroad fundamentalist madrassas, building centrifuges or allowing a few thousand royal first cousins to squander its oil profits.
Iraq for the last 20 years was the worst place in the Middle East. The irony is that it may now have the most promising future in the entire region.