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A Middle East Moment

Brian Beutler on Brooks:

Solving the Palestine problem is both essential to creating stability in the region and good for its own sake. Likewise, creating circumstances under which Iran can realize its growing power in the region in an acceptable manner is...likewise both essential to creating stability in the region and good for its own sake. What's neither essential nor good for its own sake is threatening Iran with military strikes while working to establish a weak alliance of mutually hostile peoples meant to serve as its temporary regional enemy... and then calling the whole plan "diplomacy"

Perhaps I'm working with a different definition of diplomacy here than Beutler is, but at what point did capitulating to your enemy's hegemonic desires become good diplomacy? When did diplomacy become the reliance on unconditional niceties?

This is a regime that has assumed a role of stewardship over Shiism and Islamic, faqih-style government. This is a government that sponsors global terrorism. How does allowing the republic to "realize its growing power in the region" make for good policy?

As long as this particular regime is in power, they should be isolated and curtailed. It's not about a coalition of hostile third parties, but rather, a coalition of those who can compel Tehran (and Qom) to change their behavior. This is why China's involvement in a new round of sanctions is vital. Same goes for the World Bank, and various European powers that may waver on isolating Iran.

That's diplomacy, because that's where the power resides. You don't make nice with the weaker state. If you completely remove all threats of hard power, what negotiating position does that put you in?

And Beutler misreads Brooks on the Palestinian conflict. Here's the crux of the latter's argument:

Iran has done what decades of peace proposals have not done -- brought Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the Palestinians and the U.S. together. You can go to Jerusalem or to some Arab capitals and the diagnosis of the situation is the same: Iran is gaining hegemonic strength over the region and is spreading tentacles of instability all around.

The Syrians, who have broken with the Sunni nations and attached themselves to Iran, are feeling stronger by the day. At least one-third of Iraq is under Iranian influence. Hezbollah is better armed and more confident now than it was before its war against Israel. Hamas is being drawn closer inside the Iranian orbit and is more likely to take over the West Bank than lose its own base in Gaza.

In short, Iran is taking advantage of the region's three civil wars and could have its proxy armies on Israel's northern, western and southern borders.

Arab opinion, even in Sunni nations, is sympathetic to Iran. Egypt, which should serve as a counterbalance to Iran, is sclerotic and largely absent from the scene.

It's no wonder Rice has acted so forcefully to forge the "moderate" coalition. She seems to sense what leaders in the region say privately: It's not so much that they have high hopes of peace; it's that they are terrified they will fail. If they cannot restart the peace process and build an anti-Iran alliance upon it, then the days of the moderates could be numbered. That's why Ehud Olmert, the prime minister of Israel, pinned what's left of his career to this Annapolis process at a speech before the Saban Forum Sunday night, and why other leaders are so fervent behind the scenes.

It's a progressive-manufactured myth that only the U.S. and AIPAC are concerned about Iran. This is not an American contrived division in the region, but one built upon centuries of history. All involved parties face a legitimate threat from an ambitious Iran, something the Palestinian refugee crisis didn't necessarily pose for them. It's a bit of a misnomer that Israel/Palestine has far reaching implications that alter diplomatic relations in Iran, Egypt or Saudi Arabia. Many of these nations are quick to use the Palestinians as a political tool, while their own Palestinian populations languish in poverty and marginal existence.

But Brooks makes a valid point--however unlikely a lasting Palestinian peace may be, the threat of an expansive Iran has pushed many of these actors into the peace process. If they can stabilize this problem (a problem they have incidentally propped up and contributed to), then maybe they can focus the region on the real growing threat--Iran. But until then, Palestine is an open sore that allows Iran to act with impunity in the name of Islam against "Westoxication," Western imperialism and Zionism.

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