Darn! I was afraid this article by Dennis Ross had gone subscribers-only at TNR so I'll have to quote more extensively. I'm not crazy about the surtitle former Middle East envoy extraordinaire has chosen for a regular column he is doing for the New Republic: Statecraft. The fact that I am an avowed enemy of the State as an institution might have something to do with my chagrin at the fact that the term "statecraft" has a positive connotation for most people, and in a world (sigh!) of established states maybe it should. Surtitle or not, I have to admit that Dennis, who as I interpret it sees statecraft as the use of intelligence and experience to get what you want without resorting to force more than absolutely necessary, Dennis has done some insightful and provocative pieces on various crises and international problems.
Here he bounces of Bush's VFW speech, where el presidente proclaimed that a "free Iraq" will be "an important ally in the iedological struggle of the twenty-first century," finding such a flight of fancy "troubling." By his actions, Iranian PM Maliki has demonstrated "that he does not seek trouble with Syria or Iran," so he is hardly likely to help the U.S. try to change their behavior. But Ross says there is no Iraqi likely Shia leader who would seek to alienate Iran. And the perception among Sunnis that any Shia leader is likely to be a tool of Iran is a major stumbling-block.
Ross proposes one of the Iraq Study Groups's recommendations: tie assistance money to performance on benchmarks, and really do it. Money is leverage the U.S. isn't using. So in the interest of a stable Iraq whose troubles don't spill over into its neighbors, he proposes three things:
"First, we should declare the surge a success and announce that we will negotiate a timetable for our withdrawal with the Iraqi government. This would give Iraqis input into the timing and shape of the withdrawal and doesn't simply impose it on them. Second, we should set a date for the convening of a national reconciliation conference. Unlike previous such conferences, it should not be permitted to disband until agreement is reached." He suggests French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner to "play a brokering role in setting the agenda of the conference and its ongoing negotiations."
"Finally, we should talk to Iraq's neighbors about how to contain the conflict. Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Syria and Turkey all have little desire to see Iraq either fragmented or be convulsed to the point where they get increasingly sucked into the conflict." So the U.S., instead of trying to talk with Iran bilaterally (at a time when Iran thinks it holds all the cards), should be brokering agreements between Iran and the Saudis, for example, on how to contain Iraqi conflicts.
Dennis Ross has more confidence in diplomacy and negotiations than I do, but he has more experience than I do as well, and he's brokered a few deals over the years. I doubt seriously if the Bush administration has anywhere near the sophistication to pull off something like this, but the thinking behind it is serious.