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Monday, December 11, 2006

Iraq report beyond naive; it's dangerous

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

For as smart and high-powered as it is, the Iraq Study Group's hope, if not confidence, that the U.S. can successfully negotiate with Iran is stunningly naive. Despite all the hype, it doesn't bring us one inch closer to ending the Iraq war.

The group's suggestion that our national interest can be served by trying to bargain our way out of Iraq with Iran has no basis in history, fact or reason. It's more than stupid; it's also dangerous, for the U.S., Iraq, the Middle East, Europe and anyone else within flying distance of Tehran.

Just read the complete report and you can't avoid asking yourself: What in the world can we offer Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that he would want in exchange for bargaining with us? What can we give Ahmadinejad, other than our utter betrayal of our commitment to Iraq, and to freedom and democracy in the Middle East? What can Iran possibly gain by pulling our chestnuts out of the fire?

The answer is, nothing. But the group doesn't bother answering such questions. Not rationally, anyway. The one answer we get is that Iran is so anxious for "stability" in the region that it would be glad to help us calm things down in Iraq. And the reason Iran wants stability? The group's answer is breathtakingly simple-minded and wrongheaded: to avoid its own internal turmoil if Iraq collapses into chaos.

"Iran's interests would not be served by a failure of U.S. policy in Iraq that led to chaos and the territorial disintegration of the Iraqi state," the group's report said. "Worst-case scenarios in Iraq could inflame sectarian tensions with Iran, with serious consequences of Iranian national security interests." Why? Because, the report reasons, Iran has minorities of Shiites, Christians and Jews.

I had to read this several times, because I didn't believe what I was reading. Did I somehow miss that Ahmadinejad's highest (or even lowest) goal in the current Middle Eastern turmoil is to create stability in Iraq and Iran? Is there even a hint in anything that Ahmadinejad has said about his intention to wipe Israel off the face of the world and so forth that signals that he'd give up his bloodlust if, well, Iraq would just settle down? Would Ahmadinejad stop helping terrorists kill infidels if ... what?

Fundamentally, the report asserts that Ahmadinejad can and would use his influence to help get Sunni insurgents, rogue Shiite militias and Al Qaeda in Iraq to cool it, because he doesn't want minority Sunnis, Christians and Jews in Iran to upset his government. As if he's had any trouble keeping the lid on the Sunnis, Christians and Jews, not to mention the majority Shiites, in the first place.

And what if Iran decides not to participate in diplomacy and negotiations? What if Ahmadinejad decides Iran has more to gain by letting the U.S. suffer a humiliating defeat, and that an Iraq in turmoil (which is partially his doing in the first place) ultimately serves his greater purpose: making Iran the Middle East's top dog?

The study group never really gets into that possibility.

It's as if the purity of the process is an end in itself (as it is with a number of American critics of the war). There is no thought about what the negotiations should achieve in our national interest, or what should happen if diplomacy fails. It's nearly impossible to carry the group's arguments to their logical conclusion, because they are devoid of logic. I think the group implicitly realized that itself when it fell back on the following as the ultimate reason why Iran should (would?) participate in the "Support Group" of Iraqi neighbors:

"An Iranian refusal to do so would demonstrate to Iraq and the rest of the world Iran's rejectionist attitude and approach, which could lead to its isolation. Further, Iran's refusal to cooperate on this matter would diminish its prospects of engaging with the United States in the broader dialogue it seeks." As if the "world" isn't already aware of Ahmadinejad's "rejectionist," as well as his belligerent and bloodthirsty, policies. Jeez.

You'd expect more from former secretaries of state and defense, top White House aides and a Supreme Court justice. Maybe we flatlanders are such simpletons that we don't understand (Washington cliche warning) the "nuances" of foreign policy.

But we know idiotic when we see it.

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune


Anonymous said...

dennis - great little piece on the ISG's report - i think it's great that finally someone has at least established some sort of starting point for debate on this issue - a modern day version of the seven points i suppose - it's too bad that no one had the audacity to ask these same questions before the invasion, then, perhaps the the subtitle for the current occupant's chapter in the future history books wouldn't be "induced to over throw impotent despot while a truly rich, powerful, and insane zealot acquires nuclear weapons and patiently waits to fill the inevitable political/religious vacuum" - brings back visions the classical picture of nero playing fiddle on the balcony while rome burns - stay the course

Anonymous said...
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Stephen Schade said...

Mr. Byrne:

Iran has much self-interest at stake here. Indeed, they stated to the study group that they feared destabilization of Iraq might lead to a massive refugee problem along their border. A cautionary tale here is what happened to Chad when the Sudanese civil war spilled over into its territory.

Sidney said...

This comment from Sidney was mistakenly deleted. -- DB

To all who wish to bail out now no matter what the consequences are. We as a country decided to take this course of action for good or ill. It was the Clinton Administration who passed the Iraqi Liberation Act and signed it into law for regime change. It was the US Congress who authorized the use of force in order for the Bush Administration to precede such a course. Where is our responsibility in this endeavor? We went into Iraq to depose a tyrant. Now, we have all kinds of forces that have been unleashed because of the fear of Saddam's rule have evaporated. Don't we have any responsibility for creating the conditions that exist today? You cannot ignore the consequences that will unfold if we packed up and left as we did in Vietnam. Untold suffering was meted out to our allies. Now, we are faced with the same situation and outcome. Will be the fall of Saigon redux or will it be a stable democratic order over the Tigris in the likes Japan or Germany?

Anonymous said...

So it was the Clinton administration who is responsible for the mess in Iraq ? Of course - that explains everything. Question for you Dennis - if Saddam Hussein is being prosecuted for crimes he committed in the early 80s what about those who helped him raise hell on his neighbors and his own people back then ? Does removing him from our enemies list and giving him foreign aid make amy sense ? That's exactly what the Reagan administration did in the mid-80s but we don't hear much about that dark chapter of our history. Rumsfeld himself was a key figure in soliciting Saddams favor. You like to talk about the relevance of Vietnam but this was more than a decade later. Oh but of course - we had to support Saddam because Iran was our enemy. Really - well exactly when did that all change? But now Saddam is the real bad evil Saddam - maybe it's just more of that bad intelligence right Dennis ? Just like Iran Contra. Chameleon conservatives - always looking for someone else to blame for their failed policies. The newest culprit - the members of the Iraq Report. Before that it was the 9/11 Commission. What about the brilliant authors of the strategy being played out in Iraq right now ? Of course they remain blameless. They're too busy these days looking for someone else to blame. But then again it always is someone elses fault isn't it ?

"Mission accomplished", "we will be greeted as liberators", "we know where the weapons are", "the insurgency is in it's last throes" and so on and so on. I think this country has heard just about enough. Time to get back to reality - whether this administration wants to or not.