Saturday, December 09, 2006

War in Iraq: America should set a date and buy some leverage

The "always insightful" Tom Friedman makes an excellent point in his latest column in NY Times:

The only hope of moving the factions inside Iraq, not to mention Syria and Iran, toward reconciliation is if we have leverage over them, which we now lack. The currency of Middle East politics is pain. And right now, all the pain is being inflicted on us and on Iraqi civilians. Only if we tell all the players that we are leaving might we create a different balance of pain and therefore some hope for a diplomatic deal. Trying to do diplomacy without the threat of pain is like trying to play baseball without a bat.

As for the neighbors, well, right now Iran, Syria and some other Arab states look at Iraq and clearly believe that the controlled chaos there is their friend. For Arab autocrats, chaos is their friend because a burning Iraq on Al Jazeera sends a message to their own people: "This is what happens to those who try democracy." And for Iran and Syria, anything that frustrates the U.S. in Iraq and keeps America bleeding weakens its ability to confront Tehran.

The minute we leave, chaos in Iraq is not their friend anymore. First of all, if there is a full-fledged civil war, Syria, a largely Sunni country, will have to support the Iraqi Sunnis. Shiite Iran will have to support the Iraqi Shiites. That would mean Iran and Syria, now allies, will be on opposite sides of the Iraqi civil war. That will leave them with the choice of either indirectly fighting each other or working to settle the war.

Moreover, right now we are "Mr. Big" in Iraq, soaking up all the popular anger. But the minute we're gone, Iran becomes "Mr. Big" and the age-old tensions between Iraqi Arab Shiites and Iranian Persian Shiites will surface. Iran and Moktada al-Sadr will be at each other's throats.

Also, as long as our troops are in Iraq, we are pinned down and an easy target for Iran to hit, should we ever want to strike its nuclear facilities. Once we are out, we will have much more room to maneuver. I'm not saying we should attack Iran, but I am saying Iran will be much more worried that we will.