Strike Up the Band
Two hundred and twenty-five years ago last month, the British Army at Yorktown marched out of their positions and laid down their weapons, surrendering to American and French forces under the command of George Washington. The battle's successful outcome put a final nail in Britain's plans to contain its rebellious colonies, and assured or victory in the Revolutionary War. As the Redcoats stacked their weapons in front of Washington's troops, a British military band reportedly played "The World Turned Upside Down," a fitting repose for what had transpired on the battlefield--and would be confirmed by the Treaty of Paris. The unthinkable had occurred; the Americans had won.
Flash forward to November 2006, and it may be time to strike up the band again, because what was once unthinkable now appears possible, even probable. Less than five years after the "Axis of Evil" speech, there is growing momentum to invite one of those rogue states (Iran) and a junior partner in the firm (Syria) to join discussions on the future of Iraq. In a major foreign policy speech on Monday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair offered Iran and Syria the "prospect of dialogue" over the future of Iraq and the Middle East.
Mr. Blair was careful to caveat his offer: in exchange for inclusion in the dialogue, Iran must give up its nuclear ambitions and cease sponsorship of terrorist groups. The Prime Minister outlined his ideas at the London Lord Mayor's annual banquet, a "serious" forum that is often used to announce policy ideas. Given the venue, it's doubtful that any of the assembled wonks or swells laughed at Mr. Blair's proposal. But I'm sure that his "conditions" were met with smirks and guffaws in the halls of power in Tehran.
From Iran's perspective, the issue is resoundingly clear. Why should they give up anything in order to help the U.S. and Britain extricate themselves from Iraq? By almost any standard, Tehran has been on something of a roll in recent months. Their support of terrorists in Iraq helped produce more violence, more American casualties, and electoral defeat for their arch-enemy, President Bush. In Lebanon, their Hizballah proxies handed the IDF a major setback last summer, and that organization is now re-arming for round two, with only a peep from the Israelis, and stone silence from the international community.
It's not that we expected anything more. Afterall, this is the same community of nations that has been unable to do anything about Tehran's nuclear program, except sustain on-again/off-again "negotiations" that amount to a game of nuclear rope-a-dope, designed to advance Iranian nuclear ambitions, without any sort of sanctions or penalty. Is it working? Why, just today Iran's president announced that his country will soon celebrate its "full nuclearization," (whatever that means). And, in a related note, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) wants a "full explanation" from Tehran, after inspectors discovered traces of plutonium and highly enriched uranium at a nuclear waste site in Iran. Don't hold your breath waiting for an answer.
As for our new-found friends in Damascus, this is the same regime that has controlled Lebanon for 30 years, engineered the recent assassination of a former Lebanese Prime Minister, and brazenly provided support and resupply for Hizballah. Want more? Well, virtually all of the Palestinian terrorist groups--the same ones that massacre Israeli civilians--have offices in Syria, and some operate training camps within that country. And, of course, Syria has become a convenient gateway for terrorists enroute to Iraq, where they target American soldiers on a daily basis.
For all of this, the thinking goes, Syria and Iran should have a say in what will become of Iraq. Proponents argue that we talked with our enemies in the past and even made deals with them, as evidenced by various pacts with the former Soviet Union. But at least the Soviets were somewhat rational and predictable in their discourse and actions. Put another way: the Kremlin never pegged its foreign policy on the appearance of the 12th Iman, nor suggested that it would export nuclear technology to terrorist groups and rogue states.
Seeking advice from the Syrians and Iranians on Iraq is a bit like consulting Herr Hitler on the future of Czechoslovakia in 1938. Anxious to avoid war at any costs, the Europeans were only too happy to let the Germans have their way, setting the stage for the greater conflaguration that followed. In criticizing the infamous Munich Pact--the realpolitik solution of that era--Winston Churchill told British PM Neville Chamberlain: "You had a choice between war and dishonor. You have chosen dishonor and your shall have war, too." At the time, Churchill was derided as something of a nut.
It's bad enough that Tony Blair, our stalwart ally in the War on Terror, has placed his support behind such a bad idea. More troubling is the recent news that old "foreign policy hands" from Bush 41 are supporting this notion as well. Former Secretary of State James Baker has endorsed the idea of talking to Iran, and other members of his Iraq Study Group advocate including Damascus as well. In the current political environment, it's understandable that the administration would ask for "new options" in Iraq. But soliciting ideas from Damascus and Tehran strikes us as an exceptionally bad idea. Accepting their advice would be even worse.