(HOST) While the White House and the new Democratic leaders in Congress await proposals for a new strategy for Iraq from the Baker Hamilton Commission, commentator Barrie Dunsmore tells us this morning about one proposal that Commission seems certain to make.
(DUNSMORE) Former Secretary of States James Baker believes getting the neighbors involved, must be a key element in any new American strategy for Iraq. Baker has publicly stated that negotiating with your enemies is not appeasement. And we now know he recently held separate discussions with senior officials from both Iran and Syria.
Getting its neighbors involved to help stabilize Iraq will be very difficult. Both Damascus and Tehran believe America’s real objective is regime change in their respective countries. The challenge will be to find areas where even bitter adversaries may actually share some common interests.
In fact, Iran and Syria, as well as Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, Egypt, Jordan and Turkey do have a major interest in preventing Iraq from disintegrating. That’s because the sectarian war that now threatens Iraq’s existence – could well ignite ethic and religious conflicts within and among those neighbors.
If Turkey were to see an independent Kurdistan emerge from the ruins of Iraq, it would consider this a grave internal threat because Turkey has a large ethnic Kurdish region that might be tempted to join the new Kurdistan. Turkey would resort to war to prevent that from happening.
Already Saudi Arabia has started building a 560 mile wall on its border with Iraq. The Saudis, like Iraq’s other Arab neighbors are mostly Sunni Moslems and they are fearful of a Shiite controlled Iraq that is heavily influenced by the Shiites of Iran. A Saudi advisor recently told an international conference that if Iran doesn’t stop interfering in Iraq then the Saudis will have to do some intervening of their own.
For its part, there is no doubt Iran wants to expand its influence in the region. It’s doing so in Iraq – and by seeking to become a nuclear power. But a war between ethnic Arabs and the ethnic Persians of Iran, would be disastrous economically for all concerned as it would inevitably lead to wide spread damage to the Middle East oil industry. Without oil money to mollify the seventy percent of Iranians who oppose theocratic rule, the Iranian clerics hold on power could be threatened.
None of these scenarios is far fetched. Syrian President Bashir al-Assad said recently to the German newsweekly Der Spiegel, “When the ethnic-religious break occurs in one country, it will not fail to occur elsewhere too. It will be as it was at the end of the Cold War, only much worse.” Assad went on, “Large wars, small wars – no one will be able to get a grip on the consequences.”
So what America has to do in the coming months is to try to head off those consequences – before they occur. That will require intense diplomacy aimed at reducing foreign interference in Iraq and making its neighbors part of the solution instead of being a big part of its sectarian problems.
This won’t quickly end the Iraq War. But it just might prevent that war from escalating into a much larger one.
Barrie Dunsmore is a veteran diplomatic and foreign correspondent for ABC News, now living in Charlotte.