Tom Friedman is generally regarded as a neutral, intelligent observer of the Middle East and I thought I would post his column from the NY Times today. He basically makes the argument that the US must negotiate with Syria to end this conflict, as no peacekeeping force will be successful otherwise.
As much as I hate the idea of in anyway legitimizing Assad's regime, I agree with Friedman here. If the United States plays our cards right, the Syria-Iran axis can be ended, Syria can be brought into an alliance with the United States and a peace treaty with Israel, and Lebanon can become stable for the first time in decades. Perhaps it's a step back for the democracy movement, but it SIGNIFICANTLY advances American interests in the region.
One wonders what planet Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice landed from, thinking she can build an international force to take charge in south Lebanon without going to Damascus and trying to bring the Syrians on board.
Do you remember what happened in 1983, each asked, when the Reagan administration tried to impose an Israeli-designed treaty on Lebanon against Syria's will?
I was there, I remember quite well: Hezbollah, no doubt backed by Syria or Iran, debuted its skills for the world by blowing up the U.S. Embassy in Beirut and the U.S. Marine and French peacekeeping battalions. This is not a knitting circle here.
Will Syria play? Syrians will tell you that their alliance with Tehran is "a marriage of convenience." Syria is a largely secular country, with a Sunni majority. Its leadership is not comfortable with Iranian Shiite ayatollahs. The Iranians know that, which is why "they keep sending high officials here every few weeks to check on the relationship," a diplomat said.
I repeat: I don't know if Syria can be brought around, and we certainly can't do it at Lebanon's expense. But you have to try, with real sticks and real carrots. Syria is not going to calm things in Lebanon, or Iraq, just so the Bush team can then focus on regime change in Damascus. As one diplomat here put it to me, "Turkeys don't vote for Thanksgiving."