Monday, November 20, 2006

Anyone want Syrian help?

It comes down to who you believe, and what you think their motives are.

Syria yesterday offered to help stem the violence in Iraq, a move that Iran supported by inviting Syrian and Iraqi leaders to a conference in Tehran.
Good news, right? Well, it depends on how you view those two countries.

There's no doubt that Syria and Iran could be influential in quelling the violence in Iraq, since they both have bases of support in the country and their borders contain the infiltration routes that insurgents use for supplies and recruits.

It also seems logical that both have an interest in stabilizing the situation before the violence spills over their borders.

But the United States has accused both Syria and Iran of helping to stir up the violence in the first place, and both are major supporters of Hezbollah, which besides vowing the destruction of Israel has proven to be a major destabilizing force in Lebanon.

In addition, we have WMD-related concerns with both countries -- and you can be certain that Syria and Iran will seek slack on those matters in return for cooperation.

And while both countries may be interested in a stable Iraq, they're not particularly keen on a powerful or democratic Iraq, either of which could end up working against their long-term interests.

So when weighing their offer, a lot of variables get factored in: How sincere are they? Should they be rewarded for stirring up trouble in the first place? How much slack are we willing to give them on WMDs and Hezbollah? What final result are they really working for? How badly do we need their help? How do we judge whether they're fulfilling their end of the bargain?

However it turns out, we should certainly be talking to them. Anything that might reduce outside support for the violence should be pursued. But this is just another example of the complexity of diplomacy in the Middle East, where everyone shares a link or an interest with everyone else, even mortal enemies, and sifting out the reality from the blandishments can be maddeningly difficult.

And perhaps it will serve as one more reminder of the deadly naivete with which the war in Iraq was planned and pursued, where "they'll welcome us with flowers" constituted almost the entirety of postwar planning, revealing a shocking ignorance of the many forces at work in the region.

While I disagreed with the premise for Iraq, I don't have a fundamental problem with the idea of taking down really bad rulers simply because they are really bad. But next time -- if there is a next time -- I hope that at least we go in with our eyes open. If so, then maybe learning that lesson is one silver lining of the Iraq debacle.

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3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think in this instance it would be shockingly naive to think that Syria and Iran sincerely want to help. I'm not really sure that they want stability either. Getting America to bow out of the Middle East, chastened and unwilling to act in the future would be ideal. What to do with the offer? Knowing their ulterior motives maybe we could use talks as a way to highlight their roles in the destabilization of Iraq?

11/20/2006 7:35 PM  
Anonymous Maxtrue said...

Well, events have answered your question. It is leaked that Baker had already met with Syrian contacts and was reassured Syria would work for stability and peace. Witness another hit in Lebanon. Let's watch Syria and Iran knock off the Lebanese cabinet one at a time. Globalsecurity has a bit of information on the Syrian/Iranian wmd pact. Iranian military production is designed to erase its origin.

This leads us back to a sobering reality. Hizb'Allah is rearming and preparing to bring down Lebanon's government. AQ and Sunni insurgents are in Iraq. Sadr and other Shiite extremists are prepared for civil war. Jihadists are spreading across Africa. The means to deliver without a trace is growing every day. MAD or the Don Corleone School of Massive Retaliation do not apply. Syria is betting on Iran. I wouldn't count Israel out just yet. What will Americans advocate?

This is an interesting view. Some think we are trapped, others say we are on the verge of defeatism and retreat and some think a new Israeli conflict is growing unavoidable. Great options. Whatever we decide to do or not do in the coming two years, we certainly need to know who our adversaries are, their true capabilities, and who is helping them so they can defeat us.

Happy Thanksgiving

11/23/2006 9:27 PM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

Yeah, not a lot of great options here.

Hammerswing: You may be right. But there are some Syrian/Iranian interests at play here. Besides not wishing the violence to spill over the border, they also don't want to see massive refugee flows. And an Iraq that splits in three isn't something they're eager to see, either, because of what it will do to various restive Kurdish minorities.

One thing that might be on the table is simply guaranteeing the survival of their regimes.

So there's room for talk. The trick will be not giving away the store, and requiring proof of compliance.

Max: The world could spin that way. Lebanon, IMO, is in many ways more of a test of Western resolve than Iraq. If we allow Syria, Iran and Hezbollah to dominate it through violence, that will be telling.

I'm less worried about the spread of untraceable WMDs. That would be horrific, of course, but I don't think any of the players are really close to that sort of capability. Yet.

11/24/2006 9:41 AM  

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