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'Peace with Honor' in Iraq?

By Robert Tracinski

Two weeks after the election, it is becoming crystal clear who won--and the winner is not the Democratic Party.

The election was a referendum on the war, and George Bush and the Republicans lost--but the Democrats didn't win, because you have to stand for something other than negation in order to win a mandate. Because the Democrats offer no guidance for how to win in Iraq--and no guidance even for an orderly retreat--their election victory ended up boosting the political influence of another group altogether: the old foreign-policy "realists."

Since the election, the realists have come back with a vengeance. They run the Baker-Hamilton commission, one of whose members has now been appointed as the new Secretary of Defense, and they are now the loudest voices allegedly offering a way forward in Iraq and in the broader Middle East.

The big realist idea is their recommendation to engage in negotiations with Iran and Syria to convince these two terrorist states to "stabilize" Iraq--a recommendation subsequently taken up by Tony Blair.

The irony of this "realist" approach is that it is a totally un-realistic idea, refuted repeatedly by experience. Consider two of James Baker's dubious achievements. He was a crucial player in the negotiations with Yasser Arafat that eventually led to the Oslo accords--whose result is the blissful calm and "stability" that anyone can plainly observe today in the Palestinian territories. And the idea of inviting Syria and Iran to "stabilize" a war-torn nation? Baker tried that in Lebanon, where the US acquiesced to a truce that ended the Lebanese Civil War in 1990. The result is another example of "realist" "stability," as Lebanon sits today on the brink of another sectarian civil war that may once again drive out the nation's secular, Westernized urbanites.

The only reason these unrealistic realist solutions are being taken seriously is because the Democratic election victory has been widely being interpreted as the American public's acceptance of defeat in Iraq. But the Democrats, and those who voted for them, didn't really want to admit, openly, that they were for defeat. They wanted to come up with a way to paper over an American retreat to make it look like an orderly "redeployment." And if you're looking for a ruse like that, well, the man with the most experience is uber-"realist" Henry Kissinger.

Kissinger has come back from out of the past to urge us to accept defeat, declaring: "If you mean by 'military victory' an Iraqi government that can be established and whose writ runs across the whole country, that gets the civil war under control and sectarian violence under control in a time period that the political processes of the democracies will support, I don't believe that is possible."

Like the other realists, Kissinger thinks we should try to "stabilize" Iraq by negotiating with Iran and Syria, but he "warned against a rapid withdrawal of US-led troops, saying it could destabilize Iraq's neighbors and cause a long-lasting conflict."

In short, Kissinger is proposing precisely the formula he came up with for "peace with honor" in Vietnam: a continued "no-win" war on the ground, coupled with drawn-out negotiations with our enemies at the bargaining table--all of it with the goal, not of winning the war, but of papering over our acceptance of defeat.

The "realists" like to think that they are being hard-headed and realistic because they don't let morality cloud their calculations about how to achieve a "stable" balance of powers between the world's rival governments. But if you don't understand the moral goals of the enemy--and if you don't see how those goals make peaceful coexistence with the West impossible--then you can't grasp the actual effects of the policies you advocate.

And so we find once again that the realists are adrift in a fantasy world.

In the 1970s, while the realists fiddled with détente, the Soviets advanced against us on all fronts, from Central America to Africa to Afghanistan.

Today, while the "realists" fiddle with the idea of orderly negotiations with Iran and Syria over the fate of Iraq, our enemies are once against going on the offensive.

The Syrian Foreign Minister, for example, has traveled to Baghdad to demand a timetable for an American withdrawal. But it is Iran that is really going in for the kill. Instead of entering into negotiations with America for the surrender of Iraq, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is looking to cut out the middle-man. He has called for a conference in which Iran and Syria will negotiate directly with the leadership of Iraq over that country's future. Ali al-Adeeb, an aide to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki explained that "All three countries intend to hold a three-way summit among Iraq, Iran, and Syria to discuss the security situation and the repercussions for stability of the region."

If the American goal is just to get out of Iraq, then why should we even have a seat at the table in these negotiations?

Given Iran's support for the theocratic Shiite militias in Iraq, we can guess what the Iranians' price for peace will be: a leading role for the militias in Iraq's government. Thus, Ahmadinejad will complete his regional strategy by incorporating Iraq into the "Islamist Axis" now firmly centered in Tehran.

During the Cold War, it was only after the Soviet Union was opposed with a massive military buildup and identified as an "evil empire"--an idea that frightened the realists--that the Soviet Union was driven into retreat and collapse.

Similarly, today the only way to stop a disastrous surrender in the Middle East is with a new assertion of American power--in the face of all those pseudo-realists who regard such an idea as discredited. And some hawks, bless them, are still plugging away making this case for an attack against Iran. (See, for example, here, here, and here.) These people are both idealists and the real "realists"--because they grasp that a regime motivated by totalitarian Islam whose goal is domination of the Middle East (and, from there, of the world) is a threat before which we dare not retreat, and a threat that cannot be negotiated away.

These voices are at a much greater disadvantage than they would have been had the Republicans won the election--but my congratulations to them for summoning up the spirit to keep reminding us what needs to be done, instead of wallowing in defeatism.

If America makes it through the coming years without a humiliating defeat by Iran--or a larger, more devastating world war against Iran's Islamist Axis--it will be because of the persistence of the real realists.

Robert Tracinski writes daily commentary at He is the editor of The Intellectual Activist and

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