Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 29, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

THE DOG THAT DIDN'T BARK....Fred Kaplan suggests that the real purpose behind Tuesday's Mideast peace talks in Annapolis wasn't really Mideast peace at all:

The fact that Syria attended may mean something larger still. As David Brooks noted a few weeks ago in a very intriguing New York Times column (which, I'm told by someone else, was inspired by a briefing from Rice aboard her plane), the main goal of the then-impending Annapolis conference would be not so much the signing of an Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty as the forging of an anti-Iran alliance. "Flipping" the Syrians — offering them an incentive to break away from Iran — would go a long way toward that goal. As NPR's Deborah Amos has observed, Syria's attendance might mark a step toward this flip.

Steven Erlanger reported yesterday that it's not just the United States that has this goal in mind:

"The Arabs have come here not because they love the Jews or even the Palestinians," said an adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team who spoke on condition of anonymity. "They came because they need a strategic alliance with the United States against Iran."

....Dan Gillerman, Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, put it this way: "This is the summit of our hope and their fear. It's our hope that at long last the Arab world will understand that the Israeli-Palestinian problem is not the core and can be solved, and their fear of Islamic extremism and Iran, which they call the Persian threat. This is what brought them here."

All roads lead to Tehran.

Kevin Drum 12:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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Comments

Let me be the first to go on record and say, horse shit!

"Flipping the Syrians"? Give me a break. We ain't got a dime's worth of goodwill to be spending on any of these countries.

Shrub knows that Iraq is lost. The "surge" was his last effort to fix things (as he understands them), and he's now content to hand the mess off to a Democratic president and Congress and let them take the blame when we continue to lose troops and eventually bug out. When the long over due withdrawal comes, it will be like Vietnam in that the "peaceniks" and "surrender monkeys" will be blamed by they wingnuts and their fellow traveler for "losing" Iraq.

No. This represents Shrub's lame attempt to secure a "legacy" before he's out of office by taking a stab at ME peace as we wage war there. Nope. Nothing Orwellian about that.

Posted by: JeffII on November 29, 2007 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

Of course, such a complex and nuanced foreign policy is far beyond the comprehension of most Americans, a large number of whom still couldn't find Iran (or Iraq for that matter) on a blank map of the Middle East, and who have no idea that Persians are ethnically, culturally, and linguistically different than Arabs.

Posted by: mfw13 on November 29, 2007 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

Ah, Kevin.

Wrong again, Drum. Both Olmert and Abass have explicitly made statements at the conference that they are committed to peace. Scenes of President Bush with his embracing arms slung over Olmert and Abass will grace the history books.

Syria showed up because Israel destroyed their nuclear capability, and they've got no more cards to play. More signs of success from the President's zero tolerance policy tward terrorist sponsoring regimes.

Posted by: egbert on November 29, 2007 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

Syria's bottom line has always been a return of the Golan Heights in exchange for peace with Israel. I fail to see how this non-barking dog story changes that. That some like Gillerman would like to gin up an Arab/Persian conflict is to be expected, and par for the course for this administration.

Posted by: David W. on November 29, 2007 at 12:58 PM | PERMALINK

"They came because they need a strategic alliance with the United States against Iran."

And to get this alliance the Arab nations are offering exactly what? Help in Iraq? Peace in Israel and Palestine? Or just the opportunity to continue buy oil for about $100/barrel?

Posted by: tomeck on November 29, 2007 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

Fred Kaplan quoting David Brooks about Syria?

Dan Gellerman saying something about Iran?

Truly reliable sources.

Posted by: HeavyJ on November 29, 2007 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

"Flipping the Syrians"? Give me a break. We ain't got a dime's worth of goodwill to be spending on any of these countries.
Posted by: JeffII

With countries like Syria goodwill has nothing to do with it.

Posted by: SJRSM on November 29, 2007 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

This Syrian angle is not wholly wrong, but it's incomplete.

The Syrian regime has good reason to want to minimize the number of its enemies as long as it is threatened by the prospect of Iraq's sectarian strife spreading -- especially since so many Iraqi refugees are now in Syria. Iran can't help Damascus defend itself against Sunni extremists, so it would be illogical for Syria to boycott a conference other Arab governments, especially the Saudis' and Egyptians', were attending.

At the same time, the Syrian government probably calculates that in the long run any progress on the Palestinian issue may make a return of the Golan more likely, and that for this to ever happen other Arab states must be strongly in Syria's corner. They won't be as long as Damascus is seen in the region primarily as Iran's ally and facilitator.

Finally, it would be a mistake to minimize the importance of the Israeli-Palestinian issue to the Arab governments represented at the Annapolis meeting. They do feel nervous about Iran, much more nervous than most Americans do. But they have all been around long enough to understand that Arab populations have a deep emotional investment in the Palestinian cause. The process started at Annapolis will still be regarded as a failure in Arab capitals, even if it did lead to greater inter-Arab solidarity against Iran, if it crashes and burns without producing any movement toward a Palestinian state.

Posted by: Zathras on November 29, 2007 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK

Of course, the rightwingnutosphere went apeshit when Nancy Pelosi talked to Syria for exactly the same stated reason.

Posted by: Gregory on November 29, 2007 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

But Gregory! IOKIYAA(wcm)R!!!

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on November 29, 2007 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

My take is that so many Arab countries came because they hoped to encourage the US to push Israel more in the direction of peace. The idea that all these countries think that some other issue is more important to them than the dominant conflict in the region is absurd.

However, if anything the meeting was a step backward. The statement released basically kills off the "quartet"; no mention is made, going forward, of a role for the EU, the UN, or Russia. Instead, only the US, Israel, and Abbas are involved in future discussions. No mention is made of the relevant UN Security Council resolutions.

Posted by: Joe Buck on November 29, 2007 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

I did not read about any participant at the conference blame US economic and military aid to Israel as being a profound source of Israel's reluctance to negotiate a settlement with the Palestinians and return to its original 1948 UN sanctioned borders. The Arab Sunni fear of Shiites and Iranians was probably the real agenda of the talks initiated by our president.

Posted by: Brojo on November 29, 2007 at 1:42 PM | PERMALINK

If Bush thinks that it's more important to isolate Iran than find a solution to Israel/Palestine, then he is even more of an idiot than anyone gives him credit for.

As long as there is no peace at the eastern end of the Mediterranean, we have zero chance of making friends in the Arab world.

Posted by: freelunch on November 29, 2007 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

These are the same no-goodniks that said the road to peace in the Middle east went through Baghdad.


Give these smart-alecks an inch and they'll invade Tehran.

Posted by: Dr WU-the last of the big time thinkers on November 29, 2007 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

The Syrian only formed an ad hoc relationship with the Iranians to defend against the Jewhad. The Syrians are not our enemy, nor strongly allied with Iran; they are the enemy of the neoconservatives and Israel.

Posted by: Luther on November 29, 2007 at 2:03 PM | PERMALINK

If Bush thinks that it's more important to isolate Iran than find a solution to Israel/Palestine, then he is even more of an idiot than anyone gives him credit for.
Posted by: freelunch

The odds of finding a solution to Israel/Palestine, based on the amount of time and effort and the quality of minds from all parties and countries that have ground them selves to dust against the issue, are a poor bet. At least in any short term. Isolating Iran, if that was the true goal, is an infinitely more achievable one.

Posted by: SJRSM on November 29, 2007 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

Flipping" the Syrians

If only the Mideast would see the US as good friends instead of a bunch murderous oil looters.

An like always, the Sheiks might buy it, like the Saudi’s did, but as for the people of Mideast?
Bush is a one man terrorist creating machine (well, two actually with Cheney at the helm).

Posted by: Me_again on November 29, 2007 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

Can someone tell me why breaking up the Syria-Iran entente, if it happened, would be a *bad* thing? Does Kevin think it would be bad? Odd silence on this point.

Posted by: Wesley on November 29, 2007 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

David Brooks noted a few weeks ago in a very intriguing New York Times column (which, I'm told by someone else, was inspired by a briefing from Rice aboard her plane)

During Thanksgiving dinner last week a retired journalist complained about bloggers. The complaint was they make uninformed opinions which influences too many people. My response was that bloggers communicate their honest opinions, unlike David Brooks or others, who meet with CEO's and other movers and shakers in ballrooms, or private planes, to have their opinions institutionally created for mass consumption. David Brooks might be giving us his honest opinion, but it is not worth any more or less than any other citizens. I think the new attitude of people to seek out more authentic and honest opinion worries editorial monopolists.

Posted by: Brojo on November 29, 2007 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK

No one asked me, but I think that everyone concerned should be horsewhipped, Arab, Jew and Bush.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on November 29, 2007 at 2:09 PM | PERMALINK

Of course, such a complex and nuanced foreign policy is far beyond the comprehension of most Americans, a large number of whom still couldn't find Iran (or Iraq for that matter) on a blank map of the Middle East,

While this is true, I think even the idiots running the show for Shrub have a pretty good grasp of the geography and parties involved.

. . . and who have no idea that Persians are ethnically, culturally, and linguistically different than Arabs. Posted by: mfw13

While this is also true (though you carefully leave out religion), and while a lot of Iranians probably don't hate America and Americans, but hate (understandably) the American government, Iran is the only nation in the region ruled as a pretty repressive and backward theocracy, and have a titular president who is perhaps as stupid as ours.

The Saudi's may pretend to be a theocracy, but that's mostly just a bone thrown to the local antediluvian rabble. Otherwise, there's nary a religious ascetic amongst the "royal" family.

Otherwise, most of the other Arab participants, save Syria, represent Islamic states that live an die by oil and commerce with the West, and are probably long past patience with settling the Israel-Palestine issue.

Posted by: JeffII on November 29, 2007 at 2:18 PM | PERMALINK

Bluegirl pointed to...
The United States Naval Academy is the setting, and the motto of the Navy is "Don't give up the Ship" - invoking tenacity and determination, not diplomatic acumen and compromise.

So it should have been held at Colorado Springs? Motto is, "First, the golf course..."

Posted by: SJRSM on November 29, 2007 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

That was pretty funny, Mike, but this time of year? Ugh - that cold wind would be a bitch.

But on a serious note, Camp David comes immediately to mind...

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on November 29, 2007 at 3:06 PM | PERMALINK

Can someone tell me why breaking up the Syria-Iran entente, if it happened, would be a *bad* thing?

Can someone tell me why removing Saddam would be a bad thing?

Posted by: Boronx on November 29, 2007 at 3:48 PM | PERMALINK

But on a serious note, Camp David comes immediately to mind...
Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.)

Gettysburg College, surrounded by the battlefield, would have been good. The spirit of Lincoln and the site of our own struggle. Nice tour to give the talks some space.

Posted by: SJRSM on November 29, 2007 at 3:58 PM | PERMALINK
Isolating Iran, if that was the true goal, is an infinitely more achievable one. SJRSM at 2:05 PM
Fat chance of that from anything Bush does.

The real worry of Arab leaders"

…Arab leaders worry that if Abbas is perceived to have gained little from Annapolis, it will strengthen Iranian-backed militant groups, such as Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Hezbollah in Lebanon. One of the main reasons Sunni Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia agreed to participate in the summit was to counter Iran's political involvement across the region, including its alliance with Syria and influence in Iraq.
"Stagnation in the peace process has increased the appeal for extremist ideologies. Feelings of despair and frustration have reached a dangerously high level," said Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al Faisal….

Since this meeting ended in complete failure, it served to strengthen extremists on all sides.

Posted by: Mike on November 29, 2007 at 4:56 PM | PERMALINK

The Bush legacy in all policies undertaken during his time in office:
Après moi, le déluge

Posted by: Mike on November 29, 2007 at 4:58 PM | PERMALINK

With all the talk about how the all-powerful Israel lobby is pushing the US toward war with Iran, we now have a new, and more likely, suspect: Bush's bestest pals, the Saudis. They need US help to push back against their Shiite rivals.

Posted by: Grumpy on November 29, 2007 at 5:10 PM | PERMALINK

Fear the Persian Abbasids!

Posted by: MNPundit on November 29, 2007 at 7:43 PM | PERMALINK

Flip the Syrians? We'll be lucky to flip Canada to our side while Idiot Boy is President.

Posted by: calling all toasters on November 29, 2007 at 9:28 PM | PERMALINK

If Olmert were as smart as Sharon, say, he would offer the Syrians the following deal: Syria gets the Golan Heights back but it has to promise to occupy it with the Syrian Army (i.e., no occupation by Hezbollah); Syria recognizes Israel without conditions and both countries exchange ambassadors; Syria abrogates its defense pack with Iran and cuts off support for Hezbollah in Lebanon. You'll notice there is nothing about the Palestinian Arabs in this and that's because Syria doesn't give a shit about them except to the extent they can be manipulated for Syrian interests.

I think a deal like this would work for Israel because Syria is afraid to get into a shooting war with Israel - it hasn't permitted Syrian soldiers to raise arms against Israel in decades. If Syrian soldiers were to resume shelling Israeli farms from the Golan Heights, as they did regularly before the '67 War, Israel would level Damascus.

Posted by: DBL on November 30, 2007 at 10:01 AM | PERMALINK

Why is it so impossible that the conference should be a forum both to advance Israel/Arab accomodation and to do a little freelance anti-Iran diplomacy?

The main characteristic of the middle east is that no one there likes anyone else very much. Even the alliances that seem set in stone are usually viewed by their participants as matters of convenience only, Iran/Syria being the prime example. I'm still not entirely convinced that splitting this pair of countries is achievable, but if we can manage it, that is a very useful thing to do.

And for all of you who worry that this is a further step on the road to war with Iran, Syria has absolutely zero ability to influence our strategic aims for Iran. If Bush wants to get into a shooting war, he already has the American military mobilized on both the eastern and western borders of Iran, so Syria is sort of beside the point. The most that Syria can do is to highlight Iran's isolation of the nukes issue, making Iran slightly (emphasis on slight) more likely to cooperate, and thus making war a tiny bit less likely.

Posted by: heedless on November 30, 2007 at 10:48 AM | PERMALINK
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