Thursday, February 28, 2013

From the Files of Smart Diplomacy

Iraq should be an easy ally to reassure.

Iraq's Shia-dominated government faced an Iranian and Syrian (under Assad) attempt to tip Iraq into civil war through support for rival terrorists and death squads in the Shia and Sunni Arab communities. In addition, perhaps 300,000 Iraqis (mostly Shia) died in the 1980s fighting Iran in that long war.

Iraqi hostility to both Iran and Assad should be easy to leverage into a close alliance between America and Iraq.

Hey, how's this for the fruits of smart diplomacy?

Iraq's prime minister warned Wednesday that a victory for rebels in the Syrian civil war would create a new extremist haven and destabilize the wider Middle East, sparking sectarian wars in his own country and in Lebanon.

Nouri al-Maliki stopped short of voicing outright support for Syrian President Bashar Assad's embattled regime. But his comments in a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press marked one of his strongest warnings yet about the turmoil that the collapse of the Syrian government could create.

The prime minister's remarks reflect fears by many Shiite Muslims in Iraq and elsewhere that Sunni Muslims would come to dominate Syria should Assad be toppled, and his statements could provide a measure of moral support for those fighting to keep Assad in power.

Again, not that I blame the Iraqis. They need to be careful about angering the Iranians. Not a lot of Iraqis are fond of Iran and far fewer are fond of Syria under Assad. But Iran is close and willing to fight for Iraq. Iraq's military has not had the time (or opportunity, arguably) to transition to one capable of conventional warfare in a clash with Iran. Where, the Iraqis can ask, is America?

Twenty-five thousand American troops. That's all I wanted to keep in Iraq to reassure Iraqis that it was safe to resist Iranian pressure and that it was safe to practice democracy. That's all I wanted to defend the gains we made until Iraq could handle the role on their own.

But no, our president had to "responsibly end" the war that continues without us. All he wants is a decent interval before Iran can win in Iraq to avoid responsibility for the debacle.

And now we have a Secretary of Defense who doesn't want to dictate to anyone, let alone Iran, and is famously eager to cut a deal with Iran on top of that. Yeah, that will reassure the Iraqis who should be our natural friends based on our common enemies and shared sacrifice.

We may yet win this. Iraq could buy the time they need to strengthen their military (which we are helping, I'll say) and then reject Iranian influence so that their prime minister doesn't have to sing the praises of the stability provided by killers with so much Iraqi blood on their hands. Heck, the odds might even be in our favor. It's hard for me to say. But it would be easier to say if we were still there and in the game competing with the Iranians rather than looking for ways to cut deals with the murderous SOBs in Tehran.