Following up on the last post, a more finished version of much the same argument I’m making on the surge’s larger policy: Edward Luttwak in the WallStreetJournal. Er, what it should be.
It was the hugely ambitious project of the Bush administration to transform the entire Middle East by remaking Iraq into an irresistible model of prosperous democracy. Having failed in that worthy purpose, another, more prosaic result has inadvertently been achieved: divide and rule, the classic formula for imperial power on the cheap. The ancient antipathy between Sunni and Shiite has become a dynamic conflict, not just within Iraq but across the Middle East, and key protagonists on each side seek the support of American power. Once the Bush administration realizes what it has wrought, it will cease to scramble for more troops that can be sent to Iraq, because it has become pointless to patrol and outpost a civil war, while a mere quarter or less of the troops already there are quite enough to control the outcome. And that is just the start of what can now be achieved across the region with very little force, and some competent diplomacy.
Luttwak goes on to describe how the US currently has alliances with the Sunnis (Saudis and Jordanians) against the Shia alliance–most prominently seen in Lebanon–while at the same time supporting the Shia Arabs of Iraq. One common denominator: Arab over Persian. [Although Hezbollah is also Shia Arab].
As long as the Shia Arabs of Iraq can not stem the insurgency, they will align with the US (and Sadr stay on sideline) while the Sunnis of Levant and Peninsula will need the US against Persian hegemony.
Then the key paragraph (as I see it):
The Sunni-U.S. alignment in Lebanon, which interestingly coexists with the U.S.-Shiite alliance in Iraq, may yet achieve results of strategic importance if Syria is successfully detached from its alliance with Iran. Originally it was a necessary alliance for both countries because Saddam’s Iraq was waging war on Iran, and periodically tried to overthrow the Assad regime of Syria. Now that Iraq is no longer a threat to either country, Iran still needs Syria as a bridge to Hezbollah, but for Syria the alliance is strategically obsolete, as well as inconsistent with the country’s Arab identity. True, Syria is ruled primarily by members of the Alawite sect that is usually classified as a Shiite offshoot. But that extremely heterodox faith (it has Christmas and the transmigration of souls) is far different from the Shiism of Iraq, Lebanon or Iran–where it would be persecuted; and besides, at least 70% of Syrians are Sunnis. That may explain why the Syrian regime has not used its full influence to overthrow Mr. Siniora: His stand against the Shiite Hezbollah resonates with his fellow Sunnis of Syria. But another reason may be the promise of substantial aid and investment from Saudi Arabia and the Emirates for Syria’s needy economy, if the regime diminishes its alliance with Iran and Hezbollah, or better, ends it altogether. The U.S., for its part, is no longer actively driving Syria into the arms of the Iranians by threatening a march on Damascus, while even the unofficial suggestions of negotiations by the Iraq Study Group made an impression, judging by some conciliatory Syrian statements. The U.S.-Sunni alliance, which is a plain fact in Lebanon, is still only tentative over Syria; but it would be greatly energized if Iran were successfully deprived of its only Arab ally.
The one piece Luttwak leaves out is Hamas in Palestine–an Arab ally of Iran. If Syria were pulled out of the Iranian orbit, however, Syrian Hamas which is considered more radical than the Palestinian variety and seems to have some levers over the organization, could theoretically be persuaded to tone down. Maybe not. Don’t know that anyone has argued either way on that point.
It is also unclear what Hezbollah’s status vis a vis Iran would be minus Syria acting as a conduit for Iranian weapons to Lebanon. As Luttwak says Hezbollah appealed to their Arab identity and pan-Islamic anti-Israeli aggressor identity when Saudi Arabia initially opposed their venture. Then the Saudis, after their people at homed embraced Hez., of course relented.
It might take what Mickey Kaus likes to call a triple bank shot on this one, but you pull Syria out of Iran’s orbit, get Hezbollah finally back into the government, use Syrian Hamas (now Syria is on board) to get Fatah and Hamas to get over their struggle, AND satisfy some Russian and Chinese demands…..why do we think China set off a anti-satellite missile this week? Think it unrelated to talk of Israeli/US plans on Iran?
Actually maybe that’s a quintuple bank shot.
Then you have Iran isolated. Good luck Madame Secretary of State. Oh yeah, if you can keep the Likud far-right of Israel from pre-emptively botching the whole thing and/or a well placed terrorist attack (or 2 or 5), and the Europeans won’t want to use military means likely either.
But it all has to start (ala ISG) with pulling Syria out of Iran. Sec. Baker almost did it once, he is the only man who could do it now. That would alter the landscape quite significantly as Luttwak notes. Even if it wasn’t originally in the plan–which was regime change for Damascus for sure.
The desire to isolate Iran, in my mind, could work only if it is lodged to a realization that like it or not they and Hezbollah are there to stay. Isolate them, push on them (A BIT only) to further weaken Ahmadinejad, then back door to Supreme Leader Khamenei and have his men pull the deal off, thereby completely isolating the Iranian President.
Needless to say I am skeptical, but there is always hope, even with this Administration.