What kind of rogue-state di­a­logue?

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

Acon­sen­sus seems to be de­vel­op­ing that if only the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion were to talk to Iran and Syria, we could end or sub­stan­tially lower the level of vi­o­lence there and be­gin “re­de­ploy­ing” our troops there. In re­cent days, such prom­i­nent Democrats as Sen. Joseph Bi­den, who will likely be­come chair­man of the For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee, and Sen. Carl Levin, who is ex­pected to chair the Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, Sen. Barack Obama and re­tired Gen. Wesley Clark have all called for talks with Tehran and Da­m­as­cus over Iraq’s fu­ture — and do­ing so in tan­dem with call­ing for a phased re­moval of Amer­i­can forces from Iraq. James Baker, head of the bi­par­ti­san Iraq Study Com- mis­sion, which is ex­pected to is­sue its rec­om­men­da­tions on U.S. pol­icy next month, has met with rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Ira­nian and Syr­ian regimes, and says the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion should do so, too.

Still reel­ing from elec­tion losses and es­ca­lat­ing vi­o­lence in Iraq, the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion has made no real ef­fort to counter the PR cam­paign. What is clear is this: As the sit­u­a­tion inside Iraq wors­ens and Amer­i­can politi­cians and states­men call for ne­go­ti­at­ing over Iraq’s fu­ture with two na­tions that have played lead­ing roles in sub­vert­ing the coun­try, the United States is pro­ject­ing vac­il­la­tion and weak­ness. Ira­nian Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ah­madine­jad hinted how lit­tle those na­tions fear the United States right now when he de­clared that Iran might be will­ing to en­ter into such dis­cus­sions if Wash­ing­ton changes its malev­o­lent be­hav­ior.

While talks with Tehran and Da­m­as­cus are un­likely to achieve very much, we have no ob­jec­tion in prin­ci­ple to the idea of talk­ing to th­ese gov­ern­ments. Af­ter all, to para­phrase Henry Kissinger, it makes lit­tle sense to talk only with peo­ple that we agree with. The real ques­tion is whether ex­pand­ing di­a­logue with ei­ther of th­ese gov­ern­ments is likely to yield peace or free­dom in Iraq. The truth is that we have been talk­ing both in­for­mally and in­for­mally with Iran and Syria for years. (Fu­ture edi­to­ri­als will ad­dress the largely un­suc­cess­ful ef­forts by the Bush and Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tions and their pre­de­ces­sors to have use­ful di­a­logues with th­ese gov­ern­ments.) In the spring of 2003, around the time that Amer­i­can forces were rac­ing to de­pose Sad­dam Hus­sein, Tehran and Da­m­as­cus co­op­er­ated with the United States — not be­cause they had any in­ter­est in sta­bi­liz­ing a free Iraq, but be­cause they feared the U.S. mil­i­tary would tar­get them next. Right now, the stakes are very dif­fer­ent; we would be bar­gain­ing from weak­ness. U.S. pol­icy-mak­ers clearly want to avoid ex­pand­ing their mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions to Iran or Syria.

The truth is that U.S. dif­fi­cul­ties with Iran and Syria be­gan more than a quar­ter cen­tury ago and are un­likely to end any­time soon.

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