There will be no shortage of people gnashing their teeth today when the United States -once again--meets with Iran in Baghdad over the issue of stabilizing Iraq.
And for good reason.
Iran is, arguably, the biggest problem in Iraq today-and the cause of a good deal of the bloodshed there, including that of brave Americans. For example:
- Iran is providing the deadliest of roadside bombs, the Explosively Formed Penetrator-the EFP- to the insurgents, a weapon capable of disabling even heavily armored combat vehicles-not to mention killing its occupants.
- The paramilitary Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-and its evil sidekick, the Qods force--are arming and training Shia militias and death squads in Iraq, often with the help of their Lebanese counterpart, Hezbollah.
- The Iranian regime is also looking the other way while al Qaeda operatives, some holed up in Iran since being flushed out of Afghanistan in late 2001, support the efforts of their brethren, al Qaeda in Iraq.
- Tehran is also bankrolling political troublemakers like rebel cleric Moqtada al Sadr, among others, ensuring the Iraqi government never fully gets its act together.
(Not to mention that the Iranians are still going gangbusters on their nuclear (weapons) program, rearming Hezbollah for another go at Israel-- and are holding hostage four innocent people with U.S. citizenship, or ties, to gain the release of five Qods officers nabbed by the U.S. in Iraq, posing as "diplomats"…)
Of course, some will say meeting with Iran at this juncture shows nothing but weakness on the part of the United States, conferring legitimacy on the Iranian regime and, perhaps, even encouraging more Iranian troublemaking in Iraq--and elsewhere, such as Afghanistan.
These critics have a point-and a good one at that.
But while it may seem crazy-even reprehensible -- to meet with representatives of the Iranian regime over Iraq under the current conditions, there may actually be a method to the White House's putative madness.
For instance, if the United States shows a minimal amount of ephemeral good will by having tea with a gaggle of Iranians in Baghdad, it could score some points-and breathing room-with:
a) The international community that is relatively soft on Iran, especially the Europeans;
b) Those in Congress that worship at the altar of the Baker-Hamilton Report (i.e., the Iraq Study Group); and,
c) Parts of the U.S. domestic audience that favors at least some engagement with Iran, especially if it will improve things in Iraq.
So while these talks are likely to fail as resolutely as the last round, the United States will show international and domestic audiences it tried to engage Iran on Iraq-and failed-but not of its own accord.
The United States will be able to --once again-- point the finger at Iran for failing to keep its promises to improve the security situation in Iraq, while appearing the aggrieved party.
At best, it will continue to expose Iran for what it is-a rogue regime-with the goal of strengthening domestic and international consensus for taking firmer action against Tehran.
This is a risky strategy, especially considering the potential consequences of appearing concessionary in the face of an emboldened Iran.
But the idea of building a case against Iran--even one line at a time-- does have some merit, if the White House really believes it will result in broad agreement for a harder line against Iran.
Unfortunately, considering recent history, there's no guarantee of that at all.
Peter Brookes is a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation and the author of "A Devil's Triangle: Terrorism, WMD and Rogue States."
First appeared in National Review Online