Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Talking with the enemy: Syria and Iran

[The follow-up second part of yesterday's post on Vietnamization and Iraqization is coming soon. It was postponed for this one.]

Assassinations are a dime a dozen in the Middle East. Lebanon, in particular, has seen quite a spate of them within the last two years.

And now it's Industry Minister Pierre Gemayal's turn. His death is a whodunit worthy of Agatha Christie, most especially And Then There Were None:

Anti-Syrian Parliamentary leader Saad Hariri interrupted a press conference to accuse the Syrian regime of "trying to kill every free person" in Lebanon.

"The cycle (of killings) has resumed," he said.

The usual suspects? Syria. With Iran perhaps somewhere in the mix. With the resignation of Shiite Cabinet ministers about a week ago in a bid for power and control by Hezbollah (see this), the idea is to topple the fragile "Cedar Revolution" government.

It's the old Mideast dilemma: how can a democratic government stay in power, when murderous thugs who will stop at nothing to undermine that government see it (and all non-thug governments) as inherently weak? Beats me. But that's what realpolitik was all about; the propping up of a thug who was "our thug," but a thug nevertheless, because thuggery was seen as necessary to fight even worse thuggery.

One of the few silver linings in the dark Lebanese cloud is this: "Lebanese Murder May Weaken Push in US to Engage Syria in Iraq."

Was there ever really such a push, and how strong was it? I can't bring myself to believe that the Administration was ever that insane. Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, seems to agree with me. He says that deeper U.S. engagement with Syria on Iraq ``was unlikely and is now even more unlikely." Sounds reasonable to me.

James Baker may think otherwise. But how did his Iraq Study Group suddenly get elevated to superstar status? It will be making recommendations, it's true. But we don't even know what those recommendations are yet, although Baker himself is on record as advocating (as a general principle, at least) talking with the enemy.

But all rumors of the recommendations the Iraq Study Group will make seem to be just that at the moment--unsourced rumor, reverberating in the echo chamber that is the MSM. And, even if the MSM turns out to be correct, and the ISG does end up making a recommendation to talk to Syria and Iran re Iraqi "stabilization," no one need act on those recommendations.

Mary Madigan thinks such talk would be like trying to negotiate with the Mob. I like the analogy, except that the mob had far more honor and far less power than these guys in Syria and Iran. Tony Blankly, in an article in RealClearPolitics, writes what appears to me basic common sense on the matter:

Iran has been our persistent enemy for 27 years -- Syria longer. They may well be glad to give us cover while we retreat, but that would merely be an exercise in slightly delayed gratification, not self-denial, let alone benignity.

What's up with this belief in the power of talk? Yes, sometimes, if there's something in it for them, one can talk with the enemy and convince them to cooperate in an endeavor that gives them some sort of secondary gain. Or, it can work if we couple it with a big enough threat; but our threats are getting a bit hollow these days.

I read this editorial, and especially the quoted paragraph that follows, over and over, trying to parse some sort of sense from its Alice-in-Wonderland reasoning. I failed; perhaps you can enlighten me:

There is little doubt that Iran and Syria, especially the former, can play a crucial role in bringing peace to Iraq. Teheran’s influence on Iraq’s Shia political alliance and their numerous militias is hardly a secret. Iran has skilfully used its friends in Iraq to send the message to Washington that it could add to its woes, if the US pressured it on the question of nuclear programme.

Let's see; I could paraphrase it something like this:

There is little doubt that the fox can play a crucial role in bringing peace to the henhouse. The fox's raids on the chickens are hardly a secret. The fox has skillfully sent a message to the chicken farmers that it could add to their woes, if the chicken farmers tried to shoot it.

Even for therapists--and therapists believe in talk--there's a time when talk is not appropriate--in dealing with relationships in which there are massive differentials of power, and ones that involve violence, for example. That's when the law steps in.

There's an almost unbelievably ridiculous and misplaced faith in talk across the land, a faith not-above-board players such as Syria and Iran do not share. They view our devotion to talk and to pacts and truths as a wonderful opportunity to exploit the naivete and weakness of the West. And they are right.

Munich was a wonderful talkfest, as well. And the ever-eloquent Churchill had something to say about it, too:

...[T]he terrible words have for the time being been pronounced against the Western democracies: "Thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting". And do not suppose that this is the end. This is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year unless by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigour, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.

Churchill didn't want a world war; he wanted to prevent one by taking a stand at the right time for the right thing. But he knew that trusting the words of an enemy such as Hitler was no way to go about avoiding one; au contraire.

[ADDENDUM: Victor Davis Hanson agrees.]

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