Since the midterm elections, it has become commonplace to foresee a return to “realism” in American foreign policy. James Baker is leading a study group to recommend a new course in Iraq. In The New Yorker, George Packer says, “We are all realists now. … Kissingerism is king.” In the Wall Street Journal, Michael Rubin predicts a return to dictator-backing. Kissinger himself is holding forth to the AP (Christopher Hitchens is not amused).
Leaks seem to suggest that Baker’s recommendation might take the following course: Warm up relations with the ruling cliques in Syria and Iran, which have been working mightily to fuel violence in Iraq (and Lebanon). Get them to agree to support stability in Iraq and to freeze their weapons programs in exchange for economic incentives. Once a decent period has elapsed and insurgents have dialed back the bombings and kidnappings, draw down troop levels.
It goes without saying that under this framework, liberal and pro-democracy groups within Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon cannot expect even moral support from the United States. A strongman acceptable to Tehran and Damascus will emerge to “lead” Iraq. Tentacles from the Iranian and Syrian security services will infiltrate every aspect of Iraqi life. The U.S. will hail the semblance of order in Iraq and wash its hands.
My friends, after Sept. 11, we repudiated this very “realism. ” Cold War pragmatism was bad enough when we had no choice; now it is unacceptable. Benign neglect did not help the peoples of Yugoslavia, Iraq in 1991, or Darfur today. Such a retreat will fool no one, emboldening the worst actors on the international stage.
Even at this late date, let the President say the success of Iraq is of crucial national interest, let him reiterate that oppressive regimes are beyond the pale, let him declare the determination of the U.S. to make good its promises to the people of Iraq and the world.
As long as the Middle East remains a place of tyranny and despair and anger, it will continue to produce men and movements that threaten the safety of America and our friends. So America is pursuing a forward strategy of freedom in the greater Middle East. We will challenge the enemies of reform, confront the allies of terror, and expect a higher standard from our friends. … above all, we will finish the historic work of democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq, so those nations can light the way for others, and help transform a troubled part of the world.