By Jeff Jacoby, Boston Globe Columnist - December 6, 2006
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
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..
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