Iraq doesn't need Iran and Syria; it needs a King

Several media reports indicate that the Iraq Study Group chaired by former Secretary of State James Baker is close to revealing proposed strategies for dealing with Iraq. One of the expected policy shifts is expected to be a move towards diplomacy with Syria and Iran in order to gain their support in stopping the sectarian violence in Iraq. Quite simply, this course of action would be disastrous.

All one has to do is examine the motivations of Iran and Syria in fomenting the violence in Iraq. Iran, quite reasonably, sees Iraq as fertile ground for growing the Shiite Islamic Revolution as both countries are included in the small group of nations with a majority Shi’a population. Securing Iraq as a strong ally would provide the benefits of a secure border with a former enemy, economic benefits such as influence on Iraq’s oil sales, and the realistic chance of dealing the United States a humiliating blow on the world stage. On the other hand, Iran can keep the US busy fighting sectarian violence in Iraq which can also lead to humiliating failure that might evoke a new policy of disengagement in the Middle East (not unlike the US strategy of supporting the Mujihadeen in Afghanistan against the USSR one might note). In other words, Iran is in a win-win position unless there is a radical US strategy shift.

Now one has to ask, if Iran were to come to the table and resolve the sectarian violence in Iraq that Iran is largely responsible for in the first place, what would be the benefit for Iran? A stable Iraq would allow American troop reductions to a level that is acceptable to the American public but leave the US with a strategic partner and regional operating base next door. What does that benefit Iran? Therefore, assuming Iran is going to act in its interests, it will maintain the current course of action. Such a strategy would only provide Iran with the chance to legitimize itself on the world stage with proffers of cooperation for the greater good of regional stability while actually taking direct action against US forces in Iraq. Do we really want to give them that bargaining chip?

Syria is another matter. It was a coalition partner in the Gulf War. This was a pragmatic decision to weaken a powerful, hostile Saddam Hussein. Despite recent media reporting of a thaw in diplomatic relations between Syria and the new Iraqi government after a twenty-four year split, this is not a novel circumstance. As late as mid 2000, Saddam’s Vice President was meeting with Syria’s Prime Minister and making trade and security agreements to the tune of 500 million dollars in commerce. Notably, Syria opposed Operation Iraqi Freedom a decade after it fought Saddam in Operation Desert Storm. By 2003, business was brisk and Syria was a trade partner of the Oil-For-Food corruption kind.

Syria seems less ideologically driven than Iran with its Baathist government, but has found itself allied to Iran even though Syria has a majority Sunni population. It seems quite possible that if Syria can be convinced to end its support of terrorism in Israel, Lebanon, and Iraq and improve internal human rights conditions, it just might be ripe for economic enticement to not only support stability in Iraq, but to move closer to the US and distance itself from Iran. This strategy has had some success with Pakistan. Of course, this would require convincing Syria that the US will be a regional partner for the long term. But even this would not be a complete solution for Iraqi sectarian violence.

But perhaps there is a real solution that lies outside the arena of dealing with terrorist nations as strategic partners. Send in the Imams.

Let’s look at our own instances of sectarian, ethnic, and sectionalist strife. When ethnic tensions came to a boiling point in the US in the mid 60’s, one voice rose above all others to help qualm the internal violence; Reverend Martin Luther King.

King managed to use nonviolent protest to effect social change and bring about the initial vestiges of racial equality in our own country. It worked here, why not there? We are all just people after all. King took the day to day experience of black Americans and raised the issue from neighborhood on neighborhood grievances (or more to the point tribal conflict) and made it an ideological, moral, and Christian argument. Of course, Christianity has always been at the forefront of even progressive social change in the US lest modern day liberals forget the Christian contributions to decry slavery which heralded the birth of the Republican Party.

Quite simply, King made racism unchristian behavior in the minds of a lot of Americans. Once he had made peace and equality a religious issue, racism became indefensible in a Christian country. Perhaps the best way to resolve the Iraq sectarian violence comes from the example of Martin Luther King. Maybe Iraq could use a King.

Another example of civil conflict resolution comes from, of course, the American Civil War. While Lincoln was indeed a war time president he is more regarded for reconciliation of the Union, thus proving it is possible to fight a war in the name of freedom without history labeling you as a warmonger, much to the chagrin of our more ardent antiwar liberal friends. The fact is that Lincoln could have very well let the south succeed without critical damage to the more industrialized north. It was an “optional” war.

But Lincoln is not remembered for fighting an optional war. He is remembered for ending slavery (all other causative issues aside for the moment). Lincoln used the ideology of abolition to block the sympathetic-to-the-south British from allying with the Confederacy. Since Britain itself had only just ended their own slavery history, it was politically inappropriate for them to side with the south once Lincoln codified slavery as the central war issue with the Emancipation Proclamation. Again, theocratic ideology played a major role in taking a practical issue, trade and turning it into a call for freedom no matter Lincoln’s true opinion on abolition which is still debated. So doesn’t it make sense to help the Iraqis find their own Lincoln and King to lead the country into unification?

The best course of action for Iraq is a three pronged strategy. Deploy more troops to finish off the weakened Baathists, al Qaeda and nonaffiliated Jihadists, Woo the Syrians and forgive their sins in an attempt to break Iranian influence, and recruit Islamic religious leaders from the region who are sincere in preaching Islamic unity (of course not at the expense of being anti-American) and get them to Iraq and simultaneously demonstrate respect for moderate Islam in so doing. The vetting would be important (it might even let the State Department do something useful) but there are such Imams. There are religious leaders from countries like the UAE, Qatar, and Egypt who might be happy to go into Iraq and preach unification in the manner of Lincoln and King.

And what do you know; there is an under reported attempt in Iraq to do just that:

PRAGUE, October 25, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Last week, approximately 50 Iraqi religious leaders signed a text in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, in the hope that it would lead to the end the sectarian bloodshed that has been raging in Iraq for eight months. However, many questions persist as to whether this document can seriously affects the security situation in Iraq.

This fledgling civil rights document has already brought together Iraqi Sunni and Shiite leaders in principle. In practice, it lacked the support of the most notable Shiite clerics. But it is a good start for a coordinated plan to make unification a moral and religious imperative in Iraq. Maybe with US support and Islamic leadership cooperation, Iraq can have its King.

 Ray Robison is a military analyst, former army officer and contributor to Fox News.com and The American Thinker. He blogs at Ray Robison.com This article is cross posted at 411 Mania
Several media reports indicate that the Iraq Study Group chaired by former Secretary of State James Baker is close to revealing proposed strategies for dealing with Iraq. One of the expected policy shifts is expected to be a move towards diplomacy with Syria and Iran in order to gain their support in stopping the sectarian violence in Iraq. Quite simply, this course of action would be disastrous.

All one has to do is examine the motivations of Iran and Syria in fomenting the violence in Iraq. Iran, quite reasonably, sees Iraq as fertile ground for growing the Shiite Islamic Revolution as both countries are included in the small group of nations with a majority Shi’a population. Securing Iraq as a strong ally would provide the benefits of a secure border with a former enemy, economic benefits such as influence on Iraq’s oil sales, and the realistic chance of dealing the United States a humiliating blow on the world stage. On the other hand, Iran can keep the US busy fighting sectarian violence in Iraq which can also lead to humiliating failure that might evoke a new policy of disengagement in the Middle East (not unlike the US strategy of supporting the Mujihadeen in Afghanistan against the USSR one might note). In other words, Iran is in a win-win position unless there is a radical US strategy shift.

Now one has to ask, if Iran were to come to the table and resolve the sectarian violence in Iraq that Iran is largely responsible for in the first place, what would be the benefit for Iran? A stable Iraq would allow American troop reductions to a level that is acceptable to the American public but leave the US with a strategic partner and regional operating base next door. What does that benefit Iran? Therefore, assuming Iran is going to act in its interests, it will maintain the current course of action. Such a strategy would only provide Iran with the chance to legitimize itself on the world stage with proffers of cooperation for the greater good of regional stability while actually taking direct action against US forces in Iraq. Do we really want to give them that bargaining chip?

Syria is another matter. It was a coalition partner in the Gulf War. This was a pragmatic decision to weaken a powerful, hostile Saddam Hussein. Despite recent media reporting of a thaw in diplomatic relations between Syria and the new Iraqi government after a twenty-four year split, this is not a novel circumstance. As late as mid 2000, Saddam’s Vice President was meeting with Syria’s Prime Minister and making trade and security agreements to the tune of 500 million dollars in commerce. Notably, Syria opposed Operation Iraqi Freedom a decade after it fought Saddam in Operation Desert Storm. By 2003, business was brisk and Syria was a trade partner of the Oil-For-Food corruption kind.

Syria seems less ideologically driven than Iran with its Baathist government, but has found itself allied to Iran even though Syria has a majority Sunni population. It seems quite possible that if Syria can be convinced to end its support of terrorism in Israel, Lebanon, and Iraq and improve internal human rights conditions, it just might be ripe for economic enticement to not only support stability in Iraq, but to move closer to the US and distance itself from Iran. This strategy has had some success with Pakistan. Of course, this would require convincing Syria that the US will be a regional partner for the long term. But even this would not be a complete solution for Iraqi sectarian violence.

But perhaps there is a real solution that lies outside the arena of dealing with terrorist nations as strategic partners. Send in the Imams.

Let’s look at our own instances of sectarian, ethnic, and sectionalist strife. When ethnic tensions came to a boiling point in the US in the mid 60’s, one voice rose above all others to help qualm the internal violence; Reverend Martin Luther King.

King managed to use nonviolent protest to effect social change and bring about the initial vestiges of racial equality in our own country. It worked here, why not there? We are all just people after all. King took the day to day experience of black Americans and raised the issue from neighborhood on neighborhood grievances (or more to the point tribal conflict) and made it an ideological, moral, and Christian argument. Of course, Christianity has always been at the forefront of even progressive social change in the US lest modern day liberals forget the Christian contributions to decry slavery which heralded the birth of the Republican Party.

Quite simply, King made racism unchristian behavior in the minds of a lot of Americans. Once he had made peace and equality a religious issue, racism became indefensible in a Christian country. Perhaps the best way to resolve the Iraq sectarian violence comes from the example of Martin Luther King. Maybe Iraq could use a King.

Another example of civil conflict resolution comes from, of course, the American Civil War. While Lincoln was indeed a war time president he is more regarded for reconciliation of the Union, thus proving it is possible to fight a war in the name of freedom without history labeling you as a warmonger, much to the chagrin of our more ardent antiwar liberal friends. The fact is that Lincoln could have very well let the south succeed without critical damage to the more industrialized north. It was an “optional” war.

But Lincoln is not remembered for fighting an optional war. He is remembered for ending slavery (all other causative issues aside for the moment). Lincoln used the ideology of abolition to block the sympathetic-to-the-south British from allying with the Confederacy. Since Britain itself had only just ended their own slavery history, it was politically inappropriate for them to side with the south once Lincoln codified slavery as the central war issue with the Emancipation Proclamation. Again, theocratic ideology played a major role in taking a practical issue, trade and turning it into a call for freedom no matter Lincoln’s true opinion on abolition which is still debated. So doesn’t it make sense to help the Iraqis find their own Lincoln and King to lead the country into unification?

The best course of action for Iraq is a three pronged strategy. Deploy more troops to finish off the weakened Baathists, al Qaeda and nonaffiliated Jihadists, Woo the Syrians and forgive their sins in an attempt to break Iranian influence, and recruit Islamic religious leaders from the region who are sincere in preaching Islamic unity (of course not at the expense of being anti-American) and get them to Iraq and simultaneously demonstrate respect for moderate Islam in so doing. The vetting would be important (it might even let the State Department do something useful) but there are such Imams. There are religious leaders from countries like the UAE, Qatar, and Egypt who might be happy to go into Iraq and preach unification in the manner of Lincoln and King.

And what do you know; there is an under reported attempt in Iraq to do just that:

PRAGUE, October 25, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Last week, approximately 50 Iraqi religious leaders signed a text in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, in the hope that it would lead to the end the sectarian bloodshed that has been raging in Iraq for eight months. However, many questions persist as to whether this document can seriously affects the security situation in Iraq.

This fledgling civil rights document has already brought together Iraqi Sunni and Shiite leaders in principle. In practice, it lacked the support of the most notable Shiite clerics. But it is a good start for a coordinated plan to make unification a moral and religious imperative in Iraq. Maybe with US support and Islamic leadership cooperation, Iraq can have its King.

 Ray Robison is a military analyst, former army officer and contributor to Fox News.com and The American Thinker. He blogs at Ray Robison.com This article is cross posted at 411 Mania