Recommendation 16 of the Iraq Study Group's report calls upon Syria to agree to a peace deal with Israel in return for the Golan Heights. It further suggests that Syria be persuaded to end its interference in Lebanon, cease aiding Hezbollah, convince Hamas to recognize Israel's right to exist, and intervene to obtain the release of two captured Israeli soldiers.
Elsewhere the report declares that "Iran should stem the flow of arms and training to Iraq, respect Iraq's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and use its influence over Iraqi Shia groups to encourage national reconciliation." The authors of this report are supposed to be the foreign policy realists? These goals make President Bush's ambition to germinate a democracy in Arab soil look positively minimalist by comparison.
Instead of a sober new look at our options in Iraq, this report consists of platitudinous, utterly naive wishful thinking. No wonder it is being so rapturously received by the media. At a press conference the morning after the report was released, a Los Angeles Times reporter asked the president whether he didn't really agree that the ISG report was much more important than any other reports (from the State Department and the Pentagon) the president was expecting to receive.
"The United States cannot achieve its goals in the Middle East unless it deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict and regional instability." A reliable old saw, but is it true? Since 1945, the Middle East has experienced 40 wars, including civil wars and wars of attrition. Of these, 10 have involved Israel (including the first and second intifadas). The remainder have included border wars between Egypt and Libya, two civil wars in Lebanon, a war between Jordan and the PLO, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the Iran/Iraq War, several civil wars in Yemen, and the Dhofar rebellion in Oman. It is chasing a shadow to imagine that "settling" the Arab/Israeli dispute will pacify the region.
But the group chose a particularly inapposite moment to seek a solution to the Israeli/Arab dispute. In the first place, its relevance to the Iraqi conflict is remote at best. Shiites and Sunnis are not going to stop killing each other because the borders of the West Bank are redrawn. But further, the Assad family in Syria has already rejected a bona fide offer of the Golan Heights. The sticking point in 2000? Syria declined to make peace with Israel. If Syria wouldn't accept a deal that included getting back the Golan in 2000, why should she agree now?
No, in order to obtain Syria's help (if it is purchasable at all), we would have to agree to cease investigating the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, drop our objections to Syrian influence in Lebanon, and agree that Hezbollah deserves a free hand in the south of that country.
What about Iran? The ISG seems to imply that our relations with Iran and Syria have been sour due to insufficient diplomatic effort -- thus the "new diplomatic offensive." That's wrong. Our relations are poor because our interests are diametrically opposed.
Former Secretary of State and ISG co-chair James Baker reminds us that the Iranians were helpful when we toppled the Taliban in Afghanistan. Yes, to a point. But that wasn't because we asked nicely. The Taliban (Sunnis) had made themselves obnoxious to the Iranians (Shiites), including by kidnapping and killing a number of Iranians. Iran was glad to see them toppled, but that didn't stop Iran from harassing our troops in Afghanistan.
We are told that instability in Iraq is not in Iran's interest either and that therefore we can sit down and reason together. But judging by Iran's behavior -- and it's usually more reliable to read a nation's motives by its actions than by its declarations -- instability is just great. The Iranians are arming and equipping some of the most violent factions inside Iraq. They seem to think a Shiite Iraq subservient to Tehran would be an ideal outcome, particularly since the road to this nirvana has included loss of American life, limb and prestige.
If this document were not so unrealistic it would amount to suing for terms and is thus a net drain on our national conversation about the "way forward" in Iraq.