Monday, November 20, 2006

Will the new-new order 'go local?'

A united, peaceful, stable and mutually-co-existent coalition of countries comprising Iran, Syria and Iraq may constitute the only long-term solution to the current crisis in the mid-east. A solution which would not sit well in certain quarters in the United States and Europe.

This week it appears that the first steps towards such a proposal may indeed already have been taken. Success or failure will revolve around trust. Trust, in a region where trust has long been in short supply. The removal of Saddam Hussein and his followers, while an admirable feat has also meant the unleashing of hard line forces within the Sunni and Shia factions. If by some miracle the leadership in Iran and Syria manages to heal the deep wounds that exist between these two powerful groups in the region, then the the foundations will be laid for a larger peace. Sadly for the US-backed coalition such a proposal, if it were to succeed, would highlight the failure of the US foreign policy in the mid-east and would further go some way towards reducing US influence over oil supplies emanating from the region.

The BBC says in a report on November 21 2006:"Syria and Iraq are to restore diplomatic relations, after a break of more than 20 years.

Agreement on restoring all diplomatic ties was announced in Baghdad by Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari and his Syrian counterpart Walid Muallim.

Correspondents say Iraq hopes the move will help to stem a flow of militants across the border with Syria.

Relations were severed in 1982, during Saddam Hussein's rule and soon after the beginning of the Iran-Iraq war." From this report one may gather that the Bush administration has achieved at unwillingly what could be considered a diplomatic victory if by its aggressions it has driven the Syrians and Iraqis to the negotiating table. Iran is surely not far behind.

Just the day before on Monday 19 2006 CNN reported that the special Committee on Iraq - a committee struck in the wake of the Democrats retaking of Congress - has come up with three options. Go long, go big or go home. In its wisdom and in keeping with its national instinct it never occurred to the committee, or for that matter to the Whithouse, that 'go local' presents as much as an attractive option as the three military options offered by the US.

Go local under the auspices of Syria and Iran faces the same challenges as the coalition faces today. The key difference is that Iran and Syria do not (other than in the eyes of the Whitehouse) face a credibility challenge. Credibility, or its lack, seems to the Achilles heel of the Bush administration wherever it shows up, moreso as it enters the second half of its term.

Attempts by Iran, Syria and Iraq to buddy up should in any event be viewed as positive by the international community and in particular the UN. Any attempt, whether coalition driven or locally driven, should be viewed with admiration. However, the response that will come from the Bush administration and its supporters will be sadly predictable. For Iran and Syria to succeed where the US has failed would be as about unpalatable an outcome as the west could imagine.

What remains to be seen is whether Iran and Syria have the combined intellectual capacity to comprehend the opportunity and ride the irony of a local peace to the finish line. Critical of course will be creation of stable relations between Shia, Sunni and Kurd. Oddly, partitioning may be the resultant and defining characteristic of the solution. A famously colonial instrument, partitioning may seem an odd choice in this new era, but quite often unity is preceded by dividing. And peace inevitably is preceded by war.

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