If Hamas is seriously talking of a truce, was that slight change in attitude because we “engaged” them and continued material aid, or because we cut funds, they are near broke, and isolated from their erstwhile international supporters? And did Syria leave Lebanon because American diplomats went to Damascus, as in the past, with more talking points? And did Iran finally become the focus of the Security Council because America dialogued with Teheran? And why did all those years of engaging Khadafi suddenly come to fruition circa 2003?
I don’t think shuttles back and forth, special envoys, and one-on-one summits-for all the American weariness with Iraq and the desire for calm-will do much to change the behavior of either Syria or Iran, when their present posture surely furthers their own national interests and agendas.
Sectarian jihadism and constant violence in Iraq enhance both Teheran and Damascus, and that is why they promote it: whatever worries they have about destabilization and jihadist blowback are far outweighed by concern that a democratic Iraq would undermine their own regimes, and by assurance that 140,000 Americans bogged in a chaotic Iraq provide a sort of deterrence for both regimes, to be free of possible American retaliation.
What we should do instead is stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan, bolster the democracy in Lebanon, press the UN to continue its investigations of Syria and enforcement of nuclear non-proliferation with Iran, convince Arab “moderate” states that reform is in their own interests and that we can be helpful in addressing their concerns of a Syrian-backed Hezbollah and nuclear Iran-and cool the bellicose rhetoric.
But to do all this would require some confidence that we can still protect the weak government in Iraq, and that the long-term course of history, whether defined as freedom or modernism or globalization, is more destabilizing to Middle Eastern theocracy and autocracy than jihadism is to Western liberalism.
A final note. For some strange reason, we seem to think both Syria and Iran are strong players on the ascendance. In fact, this strange axis is reeling, as Europe, the UN, and the U.S. are all hostile to both states. Israel hit Hezbollah hard, as only now we are learning; and, more importantly, next time, may simply go to the nearest source of Hezbollah support by stand-off air strikes on Syria’s vulnerable assets. Their economies are faltering; they are incurring the hostility of most of the Arab world; and their own populations are not completely tranquil. While realists may have written off American policy of actively working for more Middle East consensual governments and declared us a spent force, a look at the map shows that constitutional republics in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Kurdistan, Lebanon, and Turkey encircle Syria and Iran, who fear, correctly, that the entire region is in flux.
Have we sunk to such a level of demoralization that we must turn to these terrorist-sponsoring regimes?