Thursday, January 25, 2007

Bringing Syria To The Table

One thing that seems increasingly clear as a result of the teetering mess that is now Iraq: a strong central government headed by Sunnis was a key to regional stability. Any other arrangement creates wider scale imbalances that invite meddling or outright intervention by Iraq's neighbors. Of course this is the reason that the US so strongly supported Saddam Hussein until his ambition got unmanageable. (Which is neither an endorsement of Hussein or American policy, but simply an observation.)

Now common wisdom has it that our options on the ground range from bleak to grim to catastrophic, with the President having chosen "none of the above" as his response. But I'd argue that our tactical options appear so limited because four years after the initial invasion, we're still playing catch up for faulty planning and have yet to revise or define our broader strategic goals.

So what might those be? There's no putting the genie back in the bottle, and a "democratic" Iraq will never be Sunni-dominated. And as much as we might try negotiating with the Iranians, the truth is we might get some concessions, but they will remain regional rivals whose vested interests will usually be at odds with our own.

But the same can't be said about the Syrians, who stand to greatly benefit from improved relations with the US and eventually Israel. Which is why efforts such as the Swiss attempt to broker peace talks between Syria and Israel described in this article have to be encouraged and rewarded. And why no matter what else happens in Iraq, we need to take advantage of whatever is left of our occupation there to lean on the Syrians and convince them that they have more to gain through cooperation than conflict.

Springing the Syrians from their marriage of convenience with Iran weakens Hezbollah and thereby limits Iran's ability to destabilize Lebanon, as well as threaten Israel's security. A weakened Iran will reassure the Saudis, and possibly contain the threat of Iraq's internal sectarian conflicts spreading beyond its borders.

Will it solve the problems in Iraq? Of course not. But it could lead to a re-configuration in the region's balance of power that mitigates the downside of our failed intervention there. Which is better than nothing at all.

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   International Relations   Iraq   

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