Negotiating with Iran and Syria (updated)

As we await the next leak of the as-yet-to-be-released report of the Iraq Study Group, the group co-chaired by James Baker and Lee Hamilton, I’ve been wondering about the mechanics of one of the suggestions that emerged from an earlier leak: that we should negotiate increased security for Iraq with Iran and Syria.

It would seem axiomatic in any negotation that, in order to obtain something that you actually value, you should expect to surrender something your opposite number values, too.

Syria’s desires are fairly clear. They want

  • security for the Assad regime
  • restoration of their position in Lebanon
  • the restoration of the Golan Heights (the better to shell you with, my dear). AbbaGav has already done a fine job of covering some of the territory of this post.

Iran’s wishes, too, are, I think, pretty clear. They want

  • security for the present regime
  • a free hand in pursuing their program of nuclear development (which may or may not include nuclear weapons)
  • enhanced influence in the region
  • if they can be taken at their word, the end of the state of Israel

Were I a Syrian or Iranian negotiator, I’d go for the whole nine yards. Maybe not all at once but certainly eventually. The Americans have already conceded their hand, after all, so there’s little to lose.

If I were a member of the ruling clique of one of Iran’s neighbors, I’d be pretty busy right about now figuring out how I could pacify my own native Islamists and offset the increased Iranian influence.


I see that there’s some support for my intuition about Syria’s priorities:

“Of course it comes at a price, and I’m not sure the Americans are willing to pay the price,” one Israeli official said. He said that the price was not the Golan, but rather to get the international tribunal investigating the assassination of former Lebanese prime Minister Rafiq Hariri called off, and to allow Syrian influence and involvement – although maybe not troops – in Lebanon.

“The Syrians are terrified by the prospect of the tribunal,” the official said, “and they want it called off. That is their top priority, and as a by-product they want to keep a hold on Lebanon.”

The Golan was “in no way” the top agenda item for Assad, he said, who was concerned that the tribunal could actually threaten his regime.

“Assad’s regime is a small Alawite clique, with some Sunni allies,” the official explained. “If some of the cornerstones of this very small and tight clique are taken out to be tried, judged and convicted, then the whole building may collapse and this is what Assad is worried about.”

Hat tip: Instapundit

Note the sequence of my bulleted items above.

Although I am frequently on quite a different page these days from Victor Davis Hanson, on this I am in substantial agreement with him:

We know what both rogue states wish and it is our exit from the Middle East and thus a free hand to undermine the newly established democracies of Lebanon and Iraq—in the manner that all autocracies must destroy their antitheses.

although I think the regimes in question seek their own survival somewhat more than they do our discomfiture.

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