December 1, 2006
The War in Iraq has now lasted much longer then the original six month estimate of Donald Rumsfeld and shows no signs of getting better. It is now a tiring fact of life that Jon Stewart and writers of The Simpsons are more aware of the desperate situation that we are now in over there than our own President, and while I am not surprised that a group of militarist draft dodgers are mismanaging a war, it is nevertheless disappointing. The question still remains today exactly what it has been since 2003: How do we get out of there?
There are a myriad of possibilities and answers to this question that have been proposed in the hopes that somebody in the Pentagon or 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue would listen. These ideas range from the Cindy Sheehan camp, which advocates for an immediate withdrawal, to the McCain plan, which calls for an increase in troop levels in order to stabilize the region and fix the original miscalculation (an idea very similar to the arguments made in Vietnam). Gen. John Abizaid testified on the 15th that he needs flexibility to effectively win the war and secure Iraq. All of these options have their benefits and glaring downsides, but none of them were likely to ever be introduced until the events of Nov. 7 woke up the administration that had been attempting to run the War in Iraq on autopilot. Rumsfeld soon found himself out of a job and the American media started to talk about candid and unfiltered talk about Iraq finally being put before Congress.
Besides missing the fact that Rumsfeld was nothing more then a sacrificial lamb to appease a country in open revolt, the media was also much too celebratory in the idea that Iraq might be solved by an influx of Democratic opinions finally being heard on the hill. While the presence of Democrats will successfully annoy the President out of his cowboy attitude towards the War on Terror, he still holds the final decision on how this War will continue (seeing that de-funding the war through legislation will never happen).
So what are Bushs options? Just how badly has his flawed Middle East strategy ruined our chances of ever getting out of this quagmire without any more damage? If you are to believe the cable news pundits, we have a serious problem, and the solution may be controlled by a member of the Axis of Evil. Iraq now stands like a building on fire, and the same person who is fanning the flames is also holding the hose. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a hated figure in this country, but much like Fidel Castro in 1960, he is now a beloved maverick within his own borders, defying the mighty United States and forcing its leader to respect an up and coming power which controls the fate of the entire region. Ahmadinejad has pressed hard for the development of a homegrown Iranian nuclear program, prompting a sense of nationalism that has given pride to even his harshest critics within Iran. Taking this nuclear situation in Iran into account, the insurgency in Iraq seems almost tame. A nuclear Iran can obviously use WMDs on Israel or the United States (through a sale of these weapons to terrorists) or use the threat of them as leverage to completely diminish whatever power we have in the Middle East. How can we balance this delicate situation in Iraq knowing that the country to the east is quietly joining the vaunted nuclear club?
The first step towards helping appease the problem in the Middle East starts with taking Ahmadinejad seriously. This week invited the Prime Minister of Iraq and Syria to discuss the security situation there. Amongst the media and the elected political forum in this country, he is painted as a crazed Persian Yosemite Sam whose sole purpose is to destroy Israel at all cost. While he is undoubtedly a massive anti-Semite, his hatred is not the direct reason that he is dangerous;
rather it is the fact that he has the hearts and minds of his countrymen. Calling him a nut, no matter how accurate it might be, just supports his populist image in Iran and gives credence to his argument that the United States has no respect for the Iranian people.
The second action that must be taken involves the direct talks that Ahmadinejad himself has demanded. For too long we as a country have forgotten Robert McNamaras ethos of diplomacy, mainly the idea that we must empathize with our enemy. The Iranian and Iraqi situations are now inherently linked, as Iran may be supplying the Shiite militias. Iran is also supporting Muqtada al-Sadrthe man who was once labeled with the prefix of radical cleric but after successfully fighting the United States gained immense prestige. Meanwhile, the United States cannot force Iranians to stop their incendiary actions out of our fears of fighting a massive and uncontrollable war throughout the entire region with an overstretched military. With this fact obvious to everyone familiar to the situation, we have to entertain the possibility that Ahmadinejad does not want to fight the United States in an all out war, and that he might actually want peace and stability in the region as much as we want it, as long as he and his country share an elevated status and a prestige and influence equal to the United States and Saudi Arabia. He has told the world over and over again that he wants direct talks with the United States in order to peacefully negotiate a deal where Iran has the technology and rights to a civilian nuclear power program. Perhaps we should take him up on this request, have direct talks with him and leave him and Iran with a heavily (unbelievably heavily) supervised series of nuclear power plants in exchange for his help in securing Iraq. This is undoubtedly a massive risk;
he might be as crazy as the official Brandeis University Student Union statement assumes that he is, and he might only desire nuclear weapons. But even if Ahmadinejad is less of a hardline Islamic populist and more of a harbinger of a nuclear apocalypse, direct talks will expose his real intention much more quickly and effectively then sitting on our hands and hopelessly praying that he never acquires the same status and leverage that Kim Jong Il now has.
If we work with Ahmadinejad, and he helps ends the violence in Iraq and stabilize the horrible political situation, are we not legitimizing him and his regime whose radical ideology is so counter to our own? This is an unlikely possibility, as we have worked with even more dastardly people before to buttress our own foreign policies throughout our history and as long as those same people held respect in their own respective countries, then the relationships have been symbiotic and long lasting. Today we face an incomparable reality, almost like the Cuban missile crisis occurring at the same time as Vietnam. Simply put, we need to talk to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as an equal before the problems in both countries become too great to solve.