Diana West just emailed me her March 7 Washington Times column about Mahmoud Ahmadinijad’s visit to Iraq. The article “Whose Side is Iraq really on?” was sent with the tag “Feedback welcome.” With Diana’s permission, I’ll use this space for my thoughts.
Diana is disgusted with Ahmadinejad’s seemingly warm welcome in Iraq. She compares the U.S.-Iraq-Iran relationship to a pulp fiction love triangle. “The good guy (us, natch), has been betrayed by the love object he supports and defends (Iraq), having been left to watch and stew as she gallivants with his rival (Iran).”
In describing the situation as fiction, Diana is more correct than she knows. Ahmadinejad’s celebrated tour of Iraq was, more than anything else, a PR coup staged by a small group of Iranian proxies. Troubling as it is to read that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said to Ahmadinejad, “Call me Uncle Jalal,” it hardly means that the U.S is in an unprecedented historical pickle. In fact, he’s simply known to all as “Uncle Jalal.”
Though at times maddening, Talabani is in some sense exactly what Iraq needs to move forward: a shrewd, pragmatic leader with a cool eye on long-term solutions. In a region that’s known only murderous realists or murderous idealogues, a man for whom occasional compromise is a means to just ends is a promising change.
Iraq and Iran share an enormous border. Iraq is in no position militarily to stop the mullahs to their east. Frankly that will come down to us or Israel, or no one. If Talabani thinks observing the hollow niceties of “diplomatic” jaunts can buy his country a little peace, he is being, in my estimation, disturbingly “realist” and surprisingly naïve. But he’s not going over to the dark side.
Talabani may have been willing to go through the motions because, as mentioned earlier, Ahmadinejad’s trip was ultimately a failure. Orchestrated by Iranian surrogates inside Iraq, the deck was stacked wherever he went. Former employees of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Qods Force, and the Ministry of Intelligence greeted him in various locations, while hordes of Iraqis outside his caravan protested.
But Ahmadinejad was deprived of what he wanted most: a picture with Shi’ite cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. This would have advertised solidarity between Shi’ite Iran and the most important Shi’ite in Iraq. Though Diana cites the fact that al-Sistani still has an Iranian passport as evidence of the Iran-Iraq romance, al-Sistani seems to feel otherwise. He cited “scheduling conflicts” and sent Ahmadinejad back to Iran with nothing but a very dull razor in hand. The U.S., however, is still in Iraq, fighting the good fight, forging legitimate ties with a potentially powerful ally, and reestablishing throughout the region what had all but disappeared: American credibility.
Diana recently wrote a book entitled The Death of the Grown-up. It’s a fascinating study of how the West now faces the most pressing issues with a dangerously adolescent worldview. Diana writes at the end of her Times piece: “I wonder whether we will ever walk out on these destructive relationships and recover our self-respect.” I must say, respectfully, to her: Relationships are work, Diana. Kids quit.