European politicians and policy analysts in touch with sources in what they call the Iraqi "national resistance" claim the latter are every bit as worried as Americans and Europeans about rising Iranian power in the Middle East. They believe that a European, American and resistance focus on a "common enemy" might offer the Americans a "golden bridge" out of Iraq.
European politicians, most of whom opposed the American intervention in Iraq, are not gloating and saying "we told you so." Instead they worry that the collapsing American position in Iraq is strengthening Islamic radicalism, whether in its Sunni (Al-Qaeda) or Shi'i (Iran and Hezbollah) form. These Europeans have kept lines open to members of the now banned Ba'ath Party. They believe that after America's political season, the time might be right for examining whether there is common ground between these members of the "nationalist wing" of the Iraqi insurgency and the Americans they face on the battlefield.
The Europeans reason that the Lebanese war, Israeli isolation, and America's quagmire in Iraq and NATO's in Afghanistan all have served to strengthen the Islamist radicals, especially those in Tehran. They believe that it is possible to split the former Ba'ath nationalist from the jihadists and bring the former into a national-unity government. The government that would emerge from elections would include a reformed, renamed and resurgent Ba'ath contingency. A national-unity government emerging from those elections could preserve the now severely threatened territorial integrity of Iraq and show the jihadists the gate.
Insurgent sources tell the Europeans that an important sector of the Shi'a community shares their Arab enmity to the Persians. Those feelings only grow stronger with Tehran's heavy involvement in Baghdad. A nuclear Iran allied with Iraq, they say, would present a grave threat to Israel. On the other hand a unified, nationalist Iraq could, according to these sources, serve as a buffer against Iranian designs. They say that the nationalist resistance would be ready to jettison its current "strategic alliance" with Osama bin Laden in the interest of producing a common front of Europeans, Americans and Iraqis. Their mutual enemy would be Islamist extremism in which currently Hezbollah, Moqtada Sadr and Ahmadinejad are sitting pretty.
If the congressional elections weaken President Bush, the time might be right for some bold thinking on Iraq. The Europeans have been reading the tea leaves: sagging American public support for the war, harsh splits between the president and his Republican base over immigration, the absence of a unifying, conservative social issue like gay marriage-these circumstances may produce Democratic gains and divided government in Washington. Republican enthusiasm for staying the course in Iraq could shrivel while Democrats would be loath to be seen pulling the rug out from under our troops. Both sides may be willing to walk hand in hand across the "golden bridge" offered by the Europeans.
Robert S. Leiken is the director of the Immigration and National Security Program at the Nixon Center and is currently working on a book about Muslims in Europe.