The most serious message that the Baker-Hamilton commission sent to Iraq’s neighboring countries is its suggestion of cooperating with America’s opponents.
This has led to the interpretation that the United States was weak, defeated, and is about to withdraw from the entire region. While the commission wanted to save the United States from its predicament in Iraq, it implicated it in the plight of the entire region. As we will see, attacks in Iraq, Lebanon, and the region, in general, would increase, and these parties would adopt an intransigent stand in any future meetings aimed at reaching a political solution. The recommendations also weakened the new Iraqi regime and the other moderate states in the region, which realize very well that cooperation with Iran and Syria is not an easy endeavor, and carries a grave price.
But the question that remains to be answered is; what is the price?
Is it $10 billion paid in cash by the bank or the delivering of the entire bank—in this case delivering the Iraqi regime, Lebanon, and the Gulf? If it is possible to calculate the cost and contain its damages, that would be fine, but if it is unlimited, it would be expensive and impossible. In 1990, during Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait, Washington gave eastern Beirut to Damascus and allowed it to expel General Aoun (who, because of his familiar lack of common sense, supported Saddam) in return for its support of coalition forces against Saddam. Damascus wants the same thing, and Tehran wants Iraq and the Gulf.
We all support a price that could correct America’s mistakes and ease Iranian and Syrian fears. We all support Iran if it wants international and regional reconciliation based on the lifting sanctions. If Iran could be satisfied with this, it would be nice, but, unfortunately, it has a different clear interpretation of the word cooperation. Likewise, Damascus publicly declared recently that there is a price for cooperation, and its cooperation would not come free. If the price is helping Damascus to liberate the occupied Golan Heights and ensure the security of its regime, this would be very reasonable. However, we expect that its demands would go beyond this to controlling Lebanon and sharing a slice of the Iraqi cake.
The picture is clear and says that the Iranian role is primarily and the Syrian role secondarily responsible for Iraq reaching this serious situation. Syria embraced the Baathist opposition at the end of the war and agreed to become a passage for thousands of Arab fighters who turned the situation in Iraq upside down with their suicide operations, bombings, and attacks against all members of the new Iraqi regime and undermined the civilian arena. Iran, however, is the principal player who is providing financial support and embracing the takfiri (individuals who declares other Muslims to be infidels) Sunni al-Qaeda leaders that control the extremist Iraqi Shiite groups. In short, Iran and Syria hold the keys to hell, and for this reason, Baker and Hamilton recommended reaching an understanding with them. The belief that the problem with Tehran lies in initiating relations between the two capitals is very simplistic. Iran wants to have the final say in Iraq, Lebanon, and the Gulf, and this is impossible to accept by their peoples. It is also impossible to imagine that Washington would grant the Iranians such a status, particularly because of the radical fundamentalist nature of the Iranian regime.