Monday, July 31, 2006

Middle East Game Change

I can't take credit for the ideas I'm about to put forward, Thomas Friedman of NY Times gets that, but I'm also not going to quote him since some of my own thinking is involved.

I ask you to bear with me a little while I run some calculations past you to get where I'm going.

Hezbollah set off the conflagration in Lebanon, I don't doubt Israel has been watching for a reason, but Hezbollah did provide it. The question is, who gains? Lebanon certainly does not, neither the government nor the citizens. Hezbollah is now directly engaged with a superior military force and launching around 100 of its rockets daily, rockets that no longer are held as a deterrent to Israel, this is not a win. The press and sympathies of Sunni Arab nations are generally not with Hezbollah. Hezbollah's civilian neighbors certainly may hate Israel more after being shelled and bombed, but they also probably don't appreciate being "shields" for Hezbollah. Israel was out of Lebanon, ever since 2000, now they're back, not a gain for anybody in Lebanon. So, apparently the winner is Iran, since their nuke program and associated stupidities are out of the headlines, news and diplomatic. But how much of a win is it to alarm much of the Arab world? The Sunni nations other than Syria are unhappy and that doesn't portend well for Iran's overtures to be a Middle East power center. There is entirely too much enmity between Persians and Arabs historically for this to work well. Israel is in a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" scenario, a powerful well armed Hezbollah on their border is dangerous, going after a guerilla army is dangerous. Public opinion doesn't like civilian casualties, either.

Add to this scenario Hamas' difficulties. Israel had pulled out of Palestinian areas, now tanks rumble through them and a ruined economy is further destroyed. Hamas power figures are getting killed or taken. Palestinians may have been cheered by the tweaking of Israel's nose the kidnapping demonstrated, nothing cheerful about the outcome, however.

Syria is the land route for Hezbollah supplies and a major Hamas supporter. Being a pipeline for Iran's games kept them on the right side of a major military power and foe of their foe (GWB's regime change neo-cons) and as long as Hamas was gaining ground a Sunni Arab PR win. Now it looks a little different, they're looking a lot like the toady of the neighborhood bully to Sunnis and drawing the ire of large chunks of the international community. Bad relations with the US are now seriously bad.

What nation in the entire stew might be the game changer? How about Syria? If the US were to approach Syria with some other Sunni governments and something to offer, a serious offer, might they be approachable? There are some things Syria wants rather badly, the Golan Heights, regime security, and an economy that are probably available for a trade for cutting off Iranian supplies and tossing Hamas. This could put Syria back into the Sunni camp where they naturally belong, cut the chaos in their neighborhood (economic suicide), and ensure some things they'd like to have happen. Not to mention help isolate the Iranian infection. A peace agreement with Israel could have all sorts of salutory effects, for both. The US might look like much less of a threat in Iraq, and in fact be less of a threat to Syria with the terrorist links there broken. It wouldn't be inexpensive for the US and it certainly would mean making nice with a distinctly un-nice dictatorship, but it is also important to remember that it's a tough neighborhood and a bad place to be an altar-boy. It would mean a switch from regime change to behavior change as policy, but we really don't seem to be gaining much from the neo-con regime change game.

I'm certain it would be truly humiliating for the neo-cons to go ask Syria what they want to change the game, the problem is that the game as it's being played is a losing proposition across the board. That humiliation is also the reason it probably won't happen. So we can watch more GWB neo-con disasters unfold.

1 comment:

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