Friday, December 08, 2006

A ploy for leverage in Iraq

I usually agree with Tom Friedman's views on the world, but his column today in the New York Times brings me up short. Here's the nut graf:
The only hope of moving the factions inside Iraq, not to mention Syria and Iran, toward reconciliation is if we have leverage over them, which we now lack. The currency of Middle East politics is pain. And right now, all the pain is being inflicted on us and on Iraqi civilians. Only if we tell all the players that we are leaving might we create a different balance of pain and therefore some hope for a diplomatic deal. Trying to do diplomacy without the threat of pain is like trying to play baseball without a bat.

The problem I have with that is something I recall from my reading on conflict resolution. When you set a deadline, you create leverage all right -- but it's leverage that your adversary can use against you. In Iraq, it would tell the bombers they just have to hang on a few more months and we'll be out of their way. Friedman also sets up a straw man to knock down:
Yes, yes, I know, the conventional wisdom is that if the U.S. sets a date to leave Iraq the whole Middle East will explode in a Shiite-Sunni war. Maybe, but maybe not.
I would have thought the conventional wisdom to be that chaos would ensue when we actually leave Iraq, not when we set a date for doing so. Anyway, you can read Friedman's argument (registration required) and see if you find it persuasive. The piece is called
Set a Date and Buy Some Leverage.

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