December 6, 2006

Iraq Study Group - Iran and Syria part of the problem

This originally appeared on the MSNBC Hardball Blog

Iran and Syria are part of the problem, not the solution.

The Iraq Study Group released its report today after nine months of meetings, interviews and travels. The bottom line is a recommendation that the United States transition its force structure in Iraq from one of primarily combat forces to one of a military training mission, while at the same time diplomatically engaging Iran and Syria. The report also concludes that a solution to the Arab-Israeli problem is essential to achieving American goals in the region.

There does not appear to be anything new here, nor has anything especially prescient – this is what been leaked over the past few weeks. Much of what the study group recommends is already in progress. Senior military officers have advocated increased training of Iraqi security forces – police, army, border forces, etc - for the last two years. In fact, the primary focus of the last year has been a new emphasis on training the Iraqis. This has always been part of the plan: as Iraq forces become more capable, American combat forces can withdraw – and only then.

Probably the most contentious of the recommendations is the call for a “diplomatic and political offensive” engaging regional players, including Iran and Syria.

Iran and Syria are part of the problem, not part of the solution. Expecting these regimes to stop actively working against the American presence in Iraq and now assist the United States government to achieve its goals in Iraq is pretty far-fetched. Will the Iranian and Syrian governments agree to talk about Iraq? Certainly – this legitimizes and rewards their unhelpful past behavior and partially achieves their objectives. Talks with them will be on their terms - they will be happy to take whatever action hastens the withdrawal of American forces in defeat.

The recommendation to talk to the Iranian government is sure to set off alarm bells in Tel Aviv. Israeli leaders on all sides of the political spectrum remain convinced that Iran poses an “existential threat” to the state of Israel. They fear American negotiations with Tehran over the situation in Iraq may weaken American resolve on Iran’s suspect nuclear weapons program.

I don’t think anyone believes that the current strategy in Iraq is working. The study report will hopefully convince the President that his current strategy in Iraq has failed. Changes – major shifts in strategy - are necessary and coming. That said, negotiating American foreign policy with Iran and Syria is not a good course of action.