The Iraq Study Group has advised the administration to try a few more tricks before getting our spent men and materiel out of Iraq. Led by James Baker and Lee Hamilton, the Group is especially desperate to secure Iran and Syria’s assistance in reversing Iraq’s fortunes. If its central thrust is accepted, “Enhanced diplomatic and political efforts in the region” will, slowly, replace localized brute force.
There is, however, a pesky problem with galvanizing the newfangled axis of angels.
One of the aims of Bush’s disastrous occupation of Iraq was to weaken—even collapse— the Islamic Republic. He has achieved the exact opposite of what he intended. Iran has superseded the US as the most influential power in the region. Syria is second. Both have collaborated nicely in getting Zelzal-2 missiles and short-range Katyusha rockets to Hezbollah. Israel, like the monkey-see-monkey-do country it has become, followed the US’s bliss, as hippies would say, and leveled Lebanon. That failed mission further entrenched the terrible troika— Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah—as the region’s top dogs.
So how do the politically weak entice the strong? How does America leverage influence over Iran and Syria? Promise not to invade them? Threaten not to return their captured soldiers? “Allow” mad Mahmoud to enrich Uranium? We’ve gambled away almost all our bargaining chips—bar one.
We still have Israel.
“The United States cannot achieve its goals in the Middle East unless it deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict and regional stability,” the pragmatists tell us. It is apparently necessary to tether the staunching of violence in Iraq to Israeli concessions to the Palestinians. Since this is a wild stretch at best, Baker et al. have conjured a construct every bit as mystical as Bush’s democracy-by-osmosis to shore it up.
“In the Middle East everything is connected with everything else,” The Group asserts in its 160-page report. In this magically interconnected ecosystem, one of the few known palliatives for Iraq is to compel Israel to return the Golan Heights, divide Jerusalem, and allow every self-styled Palestinian “refugee” the right of return to Israel proper.
Once America’s “Concubine in the Middle East” is prodded to make these concessions, Iraq may right itself—or so surmise the realists. There are, of course, plenty precedents for such magical thinking, the last being Gaza. Israel gave Gaza to the dogs of war under the “land for peace” pie-in-the-sky. That apparently has worked out just fine.
The canonical Group has made one particularly fateful faux pa—they’re recommending negotiations with the wrong Palestinian leader. Mahmoud Abbas is not the head honcho in the Palestinian Authority; the Palestinians ousted Abbas and elected Hamas democratically earlier this year. Doesn’t The Group know that Hamas and Jimmy Carter now legitimately represent the Palestinians? My, my; Hamilton, Baker, Meese, Eagleburger, Jordan, O’Connor and the rest risk infuriating this ever-fulminating people.
Abbas did sign an accord with Hamas in support of armed action and terrorism against Israel. Called the “Prisoners’ Document,” the accord did not restrict the good old “resistance” to areas “occupied” by Israel in 1967. This collaboration aside, I’m unaware of any coup d’état returning Abbas to power. And by this I don’t mean to undermine the Palestinians’ serious comparative advantage in the area of violence—it’s almost as impressive as the Iraqis’.
Indeed, mainstream media, which in every other instance adheres to the “if it bleeds it leads” axiom, has been unsurprisingly silent on the perpetual civil war in the Palestinian territories. To read the BBC’s dispatches, you’d think that the chaos is recent, or part of the rough-and-tumble of a fledgling democracy. Or that the warring gangsters, aka the “security forces,” engage in no more than the odd, slightly boisterous “clash.”
Most reporters have capitulated to the PA’s campaign of intimidation against anyone who tells the truth about what goes on in that hell-on-earth. Not Khaled Abu Toameh of The Jerusalem Post. “The dead form an endless daily procession in his stories,” writes Stephanie Gutmann, in The Other War. “They were members of feuding Arab tribes, rival factions and warring families. They were wives deemed immodest, girlfriends deemed treacherous, daughters deemed disobedient, and always, always there were those executed in gruesome ways for having collaborated, in some loosely defined way, with Israel.”
This bucolic reality sounds remarkably like Iraq, where every potential for conflict, however small, is fully realized. Arabs and Turkmen feud with Kurdish irredentists; the Badr Brigade battles the Mahdi Army, even though both are Shia. But why dwell on the negative? All this will be behind us once Israel cedes more territory to those plucky Palestinians.
© 2006 By Ilana Mercer