I was giving the dead-tree Detroit Free Press a leisurely going-over at lunch, as I was at Wal-Mart getting my oil changed. I was going over their piece on the Iraq Study Group report (unfortunately, their web site is fubared at present where the article links don't work) and took note of a sidebar with brief bios of the eight members of the group; since the Freep's not working, here's the ISG's bio page. It's an august body, but we need stuff that will work in December and January, too.
We also could use some fresh thought; all of the people on the USG are Medicare-eligible, with only one of the team under 70. None of the Republicans are particularly conservative; Eagleburger was a State Department lifer, Alan Simpson was a moderate Republican from the west who's gone elite-native at Harvard's Kennedy Center and Sandy Baby's the moderate's moderate. Ed Meese was Reagan's right-hand man, but he was more establishmentarian than he was conservative.
What I think we have is folks who cut their teeth on the cold war not quite up to speed on the nature of militant Islam; their diplomatic offensive isn't going to work. Diplomacy assumes that there is a middle ground that can be achieved; not everyone is interested in negotiating and giving ground.
Do you talk with your enemies? Yes, if they can be reasoned with and you have something to offer that they're interested in. Otherwise, diplomacy is a waste of time, since there is no common ground to be achieved.
We can talk with Syria as a possible diplomatic partner. Their leadership is a secular dictatorship interested in power in the here-and-now. They'd like to have hegemony over Lebanon and the Sunni parts of Iraq and want the Golan Heights back from Israel.
Could we trade them a bit of hegemony in Lebanon and a serious effort to get Israel to cough up the Golan for their help in keeping Hezbollah and the Sunni militias in Iraq under wraps? It smells far more like Henry Kissinger than Condi Rice, but that's a realpolitik deal that would be within the realm of possibility. It would be a partial sell-out of the Israelis and Lebanese democracy, but if it helped secure a peaceful and somewhat democratic Iraq, a case could be made for such a bargain with the Syrians.
What about Iraq's neighbor to the east? They are a religious dictatorship; they do have a semblance of democracy, but only candidates that the mullahs sign off on can run. Their ideology is of an expansionistic Shia Islam; President Ahmadinejad brings a belief in a messianic Hidden Imam or Mahdi who will defeat the infidels, which mirrors a bit of premillennial thought in evangelical Christian quarters.
People will write off Ahmadinejad as being irrational. No, he's rational, but working off of a devoutly Shia paradigm that includes the demonizing of the US as the enemy of his vision of Islamic expansion. People will make fun of the Madhi stuff in order to make Ahmadinejad look like a nut-case, but it's no more irrational than Christian eschatology if viewed from a neutral standpoint; note that the Sadr gunnies go by the nom-de-guerre Mahdi Army.
What does the US have to offer to Iran? Not a heck of a lot. Given his predisposition to let the US stew in its own natural juices in Iraq and let the Great Satan get its nose bloodied, it's unlikely that Ahmadinejad's going to stop his tow truck and get the US out of the ditch. He'd likely want hegemony for Iran in the Shia part of Iraq, a full OK to pursue his nuclear program, and for the US to get the heck out of the region at minimum. There'd likely be some Palestinian strings attached as well, to make sure to get at Junior Satan.
That's not likely to work on a number of levels. Firstly, the region will be more dangerous with Iran being the hegemon in Iraq; they'd have both their money and Iraqi oil money to export their version of Islam and have the prospect of nuclear terrorism in the 2010s. Also, any deals that Iran makes with the US can be freely broken under Islamic law; contracts with infidels are only binding as long as the Muslim wants them to be binding.
We're better off telling Iran to stick it and try and reform Iraq without them. Syria could be brought onside if we gave them the carrot of improved relations and the stick of massive air strikes if they got in the way. However, working with Iran is a lot tougher, since they're not going to make an easy deal with the Great Satan if they make a deal at all.