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Iraq exit strategy and the Tehran gambit

Scholars say the first modern chess set appeared in Persia – a.k.a. Iran. That would be appropriate, since the mullahs have placed us in check, if not checkmate.  By Howard Fineman.
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Scholars say the first modern chess set appeared in Persia – a.k.a. Iran. That would be appropriate, since the mullahs have placed us in check, if not checkmate.

The worlds of diplomacy and war are looking in one direction: toward Tehran, where the Shia theocracy (and their man-of-the-streets front man, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) are waiting to greet a planet desperate for peace – and a deal in Iraq.

The Iranians will consent to talk. They are, after all, a highly civilized people. Only there will be a few conditions. The West will have to accept – and stop carping about – the Iranian nuclear program. (Indeed, the Iranians have been rushing their declaration of its success to make it a fait accompli.) The West will have to stop complaining about Iran’s growing role in Lebanon. The West will have to stop complaining about Iran’s growing role in Gaza. And the mullahs may even demand that the West stop making those unpleasant Hitler comparisons about Ahmadinejad: so crude, so unwelcome in gracious conversation.

In exchange, Ahmadinejad will consent to think about perhaps taking action to do what he can to stem the violent civil war that makes a mockery of the Anglo-American project in Iraq.

Good luck, America.

Mullahs take middlegame initiative
How did we come to this pass? Americans who thought that getting rid of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein might make the world safer for all mankind neglected to look at the whole board. President Bush, with an aggressive opening combination, put his knights deep in enemy territory. Now, the mullahs know, there is no easy way out, and they have surrounded us on all sides. If we leave pronto, Iraq becomes Taliban Afghanistan; if we stay, it becomes Vietnam.

In chess that is called a “fork.” You lose a piece no matter what you decide to do.

I am told by a source very close to the Baker-Hamilton Commission that Jim Baker is telling friends that the group will propose nothing very dramatic. As usual, Baker, the consummate shrewd player, is telling only part of the story. He will suggest a “regional” approach, which means he will suggest something dramatic: that we try to lure Iran (and its client, Syria) into the search for a way to let us leave Iraq without allowing the place to collapse into chaos.

President Bush doesn’t want to talk to the mullahs unless they agree to abandon their nuclear ambitions. They are prepared to say that their ambitions are satisfied, and so they may agree to a “pause” – even as they declare victory to their own people.

But why, in the larger scheme of things, should Iran let us escape? They have us right where they want us. The theory is that Iran wants to be a trader with the West – that Persia, ultimately, is a “non-Arab” country that wants to be part of the community of modern nations. That is what prominent Iranian-Americans I know are saying, and I honor their sincerity. Their theory also goes that the (current) decline in oil prices forces the mullahs to realize that they are vulnerable economically.

I have my doubts.

Double check?
When the history of America at the turn of the millennium is written, Iran will loom larger than we are willing to admit. As with the Greeks three thousand years ago, Persia is the classic antagonist of a fractious democracy. We didn’t like the fact that socialist revolutionaries overthrew the Persian monarchy in the 1950s; the CIA successfully replaced that regime with a reestablished Shah of Iran. Some 30 years later, the revolutionaries struck back – only this time they weren’t secular socialists, but Muslim fundamentalists. Jimmy Carter lost the presidency as a result; George W. Bush is mired in the region as a result.

Now the British Prime Minister, who stood with Bush in the run up to Iraq and in its aftermath, is scurrying the other way – counseling negotiations with Iran. The Shia-dominated government of Iraq (elected, in part, with walking-around-money and precinct organizers from Iran) looks to Shiite Iran, too.

As for Iran, the goal – aside from humiliating Americans – is clear: to destroy Israel. The Iranian project is to assume leadership of Islam by doing what the Sunni-led “frontline” regions of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan could never do: retake Jerusalem.

The neocons who thought they were helping Israel by advocating the “democratization” of Iraq should have remembered their chess. The knight opening rarely succeeds.