Ending the Crusade?

Now that the United States has agreed to take part in talks in Baghdad with Iraq’s neighbors, including Iran and Syria, what next?

Now that the United States has agreed to take part in talks in Baghdad with Iraq's neighbors, including Iran and Syria, what next? Paul Richter of the Los Angeles Times reports: "U.S. officials said the negotiations could open the way to a broader dialogue with two nations the Bush administration has refused to meet one-on-one except under limited circumstances, but they also gave carefully couched responses to questions about how far Washington would be willing to go."

In the January/February 2007 issue of The National Interest, Nixon Center president and TNI publisher Dimitri K. Simes made the following observations:

Realistically speaking, however, we cannot adjust our course in Iraq without adjusting the administration's approach to the Middle East and to international affairs in general. 

To begin with, stability in Iraq on terms acceptable to the United States is unlikely without at least tacit cooperation from Iran and Syria. Accordingly, to disengage from Iraq without defeat, America needs either to compel Damascus and Tehran to cooperate or to make a deal with them. The United States does have the resources to force Tehran and Damascus to stop interfering in Iraq. In fact, we have the capability to obliterate their capitals or countries with nuclear weapons. However, the U.S. political process would not allow the administration to use these capabilities, and neither the United Nations nor even NATO allies would support that. In the Muslim world, it could trigger a real war between civilizations. Seeing this, neither Iran nor Syria seems to believe that the United States is willing and able to do what it would take to bring them to their knees.

Absent such will in the United States, there is no credible alternative to dialogue with the two regimes, now described as rogue states by the Bush Administration. The Iraq Study Group was right to recommend including Iran and Syria in a search for a political solution "without preconditions." Of course, talking to them is not a panacea. Those who assume that simply by engaging in negotiations the United States will be able to obtain major concessions from Damascus and Tehran do not understand their true objectives. Each has its own concerns, starting with non-interference in its domestic affairs, and neither is likely to offer any favors to America. It would be an exercise in futility to tell them that they should stop meddling in Iraq; allow the United States, France and Israel to play a decisive role in Lebanon; end support for Hamas and other radical Palestinian factions; and in the case of Iran, abandon its nuclear enrichment program, without both offering something important in return and subjecting them to strong international pressure.

Dimitri K. Simes is President of The Nixon Center and publisher of The National Interest. For the complete article, click here.