Monday, April 2, 2007
Leaving The Comfort Zone
Lest we forget amidst all the discussion of how to get out of Iraq, the case for going in, back when it was first targeted for invasion four years ago, was the threat that Saddam Hussein's WMD posed to America. Of course, there was never any doubt here in Europe that Iraq had been effectively disarmed. So to see reasonable, responsible people entertaining the notion to the contrary seemed like some sort of hysteria-induced collective delusion.
What was even more shocking, though, was the neocon vision that served as theoretical apologia for what was so obviously an elective war in violation not only of international law, but of common sense. Who in their right minds could have actually believed that invading Iraq was to be the first step in a glorious transformation of the Middle East into a regional alliance of liberal democracies?
As events have unfolded since then, I've only become more convinced that we've witnessed perhaps the greatest strategic blunder in American history. From the bungled occupation and savage sectarian bloodletting within Iraq, to the unleashing of Iranian influence throughout the region, everything that could have gone wrong has, and often to the worst degree possible.
And still, there are moments when a particular news item or a general trend leads me to consider the possibility that I'm wrong. Not about the past, which is a matter of historical record. But about the future, which is still susceptible to the element of surprise.
Now, before you start worrying that I've been re-programmed by The Weekly Standard crew, let me state for the record that no, I don't think there'll be a Prague Spring breaking out in Riyadh anytime soon. But when the Arab League reactivates a dormant comprehensive peace plan and Israel responds by proposing a regional peace conference, there does seem to be the hint of a paradigm shift, if not quite a glorious transformation, in the Middle East. Ironically, if it does materialize into real progress, it will be as a result of our disastrous failure in Iraq, rather than because of any success.
If it has accomplished nothing else, the American invasion of Iraq has disrupted the status quo that has governed the region, with brief interruptions, for the past generation. Specifically, the fear of Iran has proven to be the kind of motivation that the Saudis needed to move outside of their comfort zone. They began their recent diplomatic inititiative by heading off a civil war between Fatah and Hamas, moved on to shore up a strategic opposition to Syrian/Iranian influence in Lebanon, and just might cap it off with a comprehensive regional deal formally establishing peace and diplomatic relations between the moderate Arab states and Israel.
Of course, the one player missing from the table, the one who until now was considered indispensable to any hopes of striking a deal, is the US. Who could have ever imagined, four years ago, that a drastic reduction in America's strategic position and influence in the region would coincide with attempts at this kind of broad coalition-building? Certainly not the neocons. And, I admit, certainly not me.