The Magazine

The New Old Thing

The return of the Iraq Study Group.

Jun 11, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 37 • By FREDERICK W. KAGAN
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The other panacea the ISG offers is "engagement" with Iran and Syria. Again, this recommendation was problematic in December 2006 because it assumed that the basis of Iraq's problems was outside of Iraq and that regional negotiations were the key to preventing Iraqis from killing one another, neither of which was true. Today, a more fundamental problem has emerged even as the Bush administration has begun to negotiate with both Iran and Syria--and all the other key regional and international players. Successful diplomacy in situations like these requires trading less important interests for more important ones, because we have no misunderstandings with Iran that can be cleared up by talking. The Iranians seek to defeat us in Iraq and to develop nuclear weapons. That's why they send weapons not only to Shia groups in Iraq, but to everyone--even Sunnis--who fight the Americans. That's why they refuse to allow a normal international inspections regime of a nuclear program they claim is peaceful. The mullahs are playing hardball. That doesn't mean we couldn't make a deal--but only if we were willing to give them something they want.

Should we? Should we give them control of southern Lebanon via their Hezbollah proxies in return for their quiescence in Iraq? Should we let them have nuclear weapons if they will stop funneling weapons to al Qaeda? And if we gave them those things, would they make the deal--or honor it? And supposing they did, how much would that lessen the violence in Iraq? The ISG offers no insight into this problem--simply the exhortation that talking would somehow solve it. That's not how diplomacy works, as James Baker should know very well. American vital interests categorically exclude allowing Iran to have nuclear weapons, allowing Iran to dominate Iraq, allowing Iran to destabilize Afghanistan, and allowing Iran to control southern Lebanon. Iranian interests, at least in the view of the mullahs who make the decisions, apparently require at least the first two of these things. That doesn't leave much to talk about.

The rush-to-the-exit frenzy that is responsible for the unthinking attempt to resuscitate the Iraq Study Group is both irresponsible and ridiculous. Let's give the new strategy a chance to work. At some point, success in Iraq will mean transitioning to an advisory role as security is established (although that role will look very different from what the ISG report imagined). But "adopting" the ISG report today won't get us there. It will only get us to defeat.

Frederick W. Kagan is a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. He is the author of Finding the Target: The Transformation of the American Military (Encounter).