Khalilzad to talk to Iranians
Monday in Iraq was characterized by the usual mayhem, much of it with a dark sectarian character. Two prominent members of the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party and a third politician from the Association of Muslim Scholars (hard line Sunni) were assassinated in Baghdad. South of the capital, two Britons of South Asian heritage who had gone on pilgrimage to the Shiite holy city of Karbala were killed in an ambush. northern Iraq, 6 Iranian pilgrims were kidnapped.
In Baqubah four US troops were wounded by a suicide bombing. In Baiji, US troops opened fire when a bomb went off, and they killed a leader of the Shamar tribe, among the larger and more powerful in Iraq. Vice President Ghazi al-Yawir is from the Shamar. So too was one of the suicide bombers who blew up the Radisson SAS in Amman recently. Killing Shamar shaikh = not good.
US ambassador in Baghdad Zalmay Khalilzad is going to start direct talks with the Iranians.
Say what? Wasn’t Scott Ritter saying only last winter that a Bush military attack on Iran was in the offing? What has changed?
1. The security situation in Iraq is deteriorating over time.
2. The Shiite religious parties won the Jan. 30 elections, which was not what Bush had hoped for.
3. The Neocons are going to jail or given sinecures, and their star is falling faster than the Chicxulub meteor that killed off the dinosaurs.
Veteran journalist Jim Lobe has put it all together in a tight analysis I haven’t seen elsewhere.
It is the return of Realism in Washington foreign policy. You need the Iranians, as I maintain, for a soft landing in Iraq? So you do business with the Iranians. This opening may help explain why Ahmad Chalabi went to Tehran before he went to Washington, and why he was given such a high-level (if unphotographed) reception in Washington.
Likewise, it helps explain the Cairo Conference sponsored by the Arab League, the results of which were an effort to reach out to the Sunni Arab guerrillas. The Iraqi government even recognized that it was legitimate for the guerrillas to blow up US troops! This is a startling admission for a government under siege with very few allies. But it recategorizes the Sunni Arab leaders from being terrorists to being a national liberation force. You could imagine dealing with, and bringing in from the cold, mere nationalists. Terrorists are poison.
The Neocons began by wanting to destroy the Sunni Arabs of Iraq and their Baath Party, and then going on to overthrow the ayatollahs in Iran. They inducted Bush and Cheney into this over-ambitious and self-contradictory plan, which depended on putting the Shiite Iraqis in power in Baghdad. But wouldn’t the Sunni Arabs violently object? Wouldn’t the Iraqi Shiites establish warm relations with Tehran.
Of course. The Neocons kept getting their promoters to proclaim how brilliant they are. But Wolfowitz isn’t exactly well published as an academic, and Feith is notoriously as thick as two blocks of wood. Their plan was stupid. It is hard to escape the conclusion that they are, as well.
And now the stupid plan has collapsed, as anyone could have foreseen (I did, in 2002). And Realism is reasserting itself.
The two beneficiaries of the 180 degree turn by Bush’s ship of state toward the fabled shores of Reality? The Neo-Baath of Sunni Iraq and the ayatollahs in Tehran.
But who cares? If the US dealing with them can get our troops home and prevent a regional war that screws up the whole world, it will be well worth it.
Ambassador Khalilzad has all along been the most pragmatic of the Neocons. There was even a time in the mid-1990s when he was willing to deal with the Talaban to get a gas pipeline built from Turkmenistan. His pragmatism (which the Neocons may well castigate as a lack of principle) will stand him in good stead in his talks with Tehran. The thing you always worry about is that it is already too late.