Should the United States turn to Iran and Syria for help in reducing the violence bloodying Iraq? James Baker's Iraq Study Group, out this week with its well-leaked recommendations, thinks direct talks with Tehran and Damascus would be a fine idea. I think so too right after those governments switch sides in the global jihad.
As things stand now, however, negotiating with Iran and Syria over the future of Iraq is about as promising a strategy for preventing more bloodshed as negotiating with Adolf Hitler over the future of Czechoslovakia was in 1938. There were eminent "realists" then too, many of whom were gung-ho for cutting a deal with the Fuehrer. As Neville Chamberlain set off on the diplomatic mission that would culminate in Munich, William Shirer recorded in "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich," Britain's poet laureate, John Masefield, composed a paean in his honor . When the negotiations were done and Czechoslovakia had been dismembered, the prime minister was hailed as a national hero. The Nobel Committee received not one, not two, but 10 nominations proposing Chamberlain for the 1939 peace prize.
Chamberlain and his admirers had been certain that Munich would bring "peace in our time." Instead it helped pave the way for war.
How many times does the lesson have to be relearned? There is no appeasing the unappeasable. When democracies engage with fanatical tyrants, the world becomes not less dangerous but more so.
That wasn't the fashionable view in 1938, however, and it isn't popular today. According to a new World Public Opinion poll, 75 percent of Americans agree that to stabilize Iraq, the United States should enter into talks with Iran and Syria. "I believe in talking to your enemies," James Baker declares. "I don't think you restrict your conversations to your friends."
But with totalitarian regimes like those in Iran and Syria, the effect of such "conversations" is usually negative. It buys time and legitimacy for the totalitarians, while deepening their conviction that the West has no stomach for a fight. No one was more pleased with Chamberlain's diplomacy than Hitler, for it proved that Germany was in the saddle, riding the democracies that the momentum was with Berlin, while London and Paris were flailing. The Baker panel's recommendations will bring similar satisfaction to Tehran and Damascus.
Shortly after 9/11, President Bush famously declared that every nation "now has a decision to make: Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists." At every step of the way, Iran and Syria have unambiguously been with the terrorists.
As the world's foremost sponsors of radical Islamic violence, the State Department reported in April, "Iran and Syria routinely provide unique safe haven, substantial resources, and guidance to terrorist organizations." While the Assad regime engineers the assassination of Lebanese politicians, Iran's rabid president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, calls openly for "death to America" and demands that Israel be "wiped off the map."
Syria was Saddam Hussein's most dependable Middle East ally, and almost from the moment the Iraqi insurgency began it was clear that Damascus was pouring fuel on the fire. Iran, too, works overtime to intensify the Iraqi bloodshed. ABC News reported last week on the discovery of "smoking-gun evidence of Iranian support for terrorists in Iraq: brand-new weapons fresh from Iranian factories." Among the finds: "advanced IEDs designed to pierce armor and anti-tank weapons." In other words, to murder US troops.
No regimes on earth have more to gain from an American defeat in Iraq than the theocracy in Iran and the Assad dictatorship in Syria. They have every incentive to aggravate the Iraqi turmoil that has so many Americans clamoring for withdrawal. "There is no evidence to support the assumption that Iran and Syria want a stable Iraq," writes Middle East Quarterly editor Michael Rubin, whose experience in the region runs deep. "Rather, all their actions show a desire to stymie the United States and destabilize their neighbor. More dangerous still . . . is the naive assumption that making concessions to terrorism or forcing others to do so brings peace rather than war."
The war against radical Islam, of which Iraq is but one front, cannot be won so long as regimes like those in Tehran and Damascus remain in power. They are as much our enemies today as the Nazi Reich was our enemy in an earlier era. Imploring Assad and Ahmadinejad for help in Iraq can only intensify the whiff of American retreat that is already in the air. The word for that isn't realism. It's surrender.