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20 December 2006


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Arnold Evans

1- Grand Bargain with Iran - US offers to see Iran as equal to the Sunnis. What does that mean specifically? There has to be a tangible benefit to Iran that is better than Iran's status quo to get it to go along with anything. Unfortunately for the US, Iran's status quo looks good right now.

2- Bargain with Kurds, Turkey and US. Kurds get homeland with US support but they have to root out the PKK. Most of Kurdistan is in Turkey. No Kurdish government with even a facade of democracy can really fight against the PKK. The US keeps troops in Kurdistan to enforce this. Iran needs to be compensated for US bases in Kurdistan or it will veto it. I guess the oil is compensation for Turkey but is it enough? Kurdistan seriously may be the issue that ends Turkey as a state.

3- Syria agrees to not interfere at all in Lebanese politics. What if the Shiites want Syria to be involved? If the choice is Syria or the West, today most Lebanese choose Syria. A poll recently asked Lebanese to name the two most threatening states. Israel came in first, among every single ethnic group, even the supposedly pro-Western ones. The US beat Syria 60% to 25% or so. If Lebanese act on their own accord in a pro-Syrian way, how would you know the difference between that and Syrian influence?

4- Israel must be included in everything, in exchange Israel works for prosperous Palestinian state. Either the refugees will never return and Israel wins, or they will return and the Arabs win. The US likes to make an Israeli victory a precondition for negotation. No negotiation with that precondition can start. The prosperous Palestinian state would be able to afford better weapons to pressure Israel to accept the refugees. At some point, giving up Israel's Jewish character will come on the table.

5- The US splits the Sunnis and only fights the bad ones. Very difficult because good Sunnis trust bad Sunnis more than they trust the US. If Israel wasn't enough to ensure that, which it is, Fallujah I was much more than enough and Fallujah II means there is nothing more to say.

6- Scale back of US forces outside of Kurdistan. The Shiites tolerate a US presence for the express purpose of fighting Sunnis. If you don't want to fight Sunnis, you have to go home.

The United States is not in good shape in teh Middle East. There is no way to make defeat look like victory. The US has to be willing to do things that it would not have been willing to do had it won. The United States would have worked for an independent Kurdistan with US bases if it had won. It would have worked for Israel to be recognized and an active part of the region if it had won. The defeat will not be salvaged at a negotiating table. The negotiating table will discuss terms for the US defeat.


I have a few critiques: (1) the tone of the piece presupposes American overlordship indefinitely. Even assuming that is desirable, i.e., America plays a role in the ME like we do in Europe, is that achievable because of Bush '43; (2) Iranian "meddling" in Iraq is possibly a result of Iraq invading Iran. Why did you piece not include a statement of Iranian grievance, which might build goodwill in light of the Western-supported Iraq invasion; and (3)Why should Israel be a participante of our conferences with Arab states. Doesn't that imply Israel has a veto on our policy?


Very disappointing:

Golan Heights anyone?
Right of return for Palestinians?
Why troops in Iraq if there are substantial US ground troops in Kurdish Iraq to protect the embassy?
Israeli nukes?

And those are only the big no-goes.

I'd expected much better from you Pat.


The Congress of Vienna was sponsored by the "great powers" in Europe after they had become tired of fighting each other. I'm far from sure that the leading countries of the Middle East have yet become sufficiently tired of war to be ready to make the compromises necessary for peace.

It may be that, unfortunately, we need someone like President Bush to stir the pot for a few more years and seriously damage some more nations before people in the Middle East are ready for a lasting negotiated peace.

Margaret Steinfels

Pretty straightforward and pretty simple. There seems little chance that George W. Bush or Condeleeza Rice have the capacity to pull it off. Maybe we need a citizen diplomatic initiative. Thanks for sharing Col. Lang


Col. Lang,

Your suggestions make obvious good sense and are an excellent starting point - were those involved ready for peace and wedded to logic.

I am afraid however that the parties are not yet exhausted enough, nor have the "winners" appeared, for the peoples of the Middle East to want to make such bargains. There are too many unresolved issues that are going to have to be determined by force of arms.

To put it another way, would anyone have expected that the Reformation could have been completed and the destruction of the holy roman empire been avoided without bloodshed by a conference between Luther and the Pope? I'm afraid not. The kindest thing someone man say about George W Bush one hundred years from now, is that he unleashed the forces of Muslim reformation.

Let me make a short list of these issues, starting with the most obvious - the conflict between secular humanism and religion in the Christian, Muslim and Jewish world.

Technological advances have made it impossible for muslims to be shielded from secular humanist and western values, as they have been for hundreds of years any more. I've traveleld in Northern Sulawesi. Every village has fibre, every house TV and frequently the internet. This has meant that the muslim priesthood is now trying to deal with a questioning laity. The result has been absolutism and the creation of governments like Iran's and organisations like Al Qaeeda and the Taleban who with to "purify" Islam of such heresies, often at the point of a gun.

Then of course we have the hard line religious right in Israel and the U.S. who also feel the same effects (witness arguments regarding stem cell research, abortion, gay marriage and such like.) These are matters where secular humanism is a direct challenge to what authority the various churches still have left.

This has led to an unholy and unstated alliance between mullahs, Rabbis and Pastors who have an unholy interest in a bloodthirsty "crusade" of one form or another, and complicate matters accordingly.

For example, Hezbollah in Lebanon is now having to confront the question of whether it is a religious organisation with national liberation and social overtones, or is it a national liberation and social mobilisation with religious overtones? Hamas has the same problem. the Shia and Sunni militias are going to have to confront this issue as well. Nothing America has done to date has made it any easier for them to make this choice, or to tilt the odds of a decision in our favor. If anything we have driven moderate muslims into the arms of the radical hard liners.

I guess in a way the invasion of Iraq and Israel's destruction of Lebanon will help the peoples of the middle east settle these issues, but not necessarily in our favor.

The other issue that has not been addressed is the kingdom of Saudi Arabia - an absolute monarchy, but with the material trappings of secular humanism pasted over a theocracy.

Then at home there is the good old military industrial complex, hungry for war and defence spending and fearful of a so called "peace dividend" should common sense and self interest prevail.

Each of these groups, or their acolytes, take turns in throwing more gasoline on the fire. If its not the Likudniks in Washington think tanks, its Irans' Prime Minister. If its not Al Qaeeda, its George "Deciderer" Bush. Our leaders believe that they stand to gain by warfare. they are not interested in peace - yet.

Meanwhile the Chinese sit, as inscrutable as ever, the Russians watch. The western world has tried and failed to influence America, and I suspect most countries are now doing what they can to try and insulate themselves from the coming catastrophe.


Your proposal reflects that "reason" which is so lacking in the administration; I therefore share your assessment of its likely adoption there, or among their supporters in the punditry.

Though we cannot anticipate our opportunities, we must be ready for them. Is that in Sun Tzu? :) And, after all, it is Advent.

W. Patrick Lang


I am not negotiating with YOU. I am suggesting a general methodology for cleaning up a lot of the firewood lying around in the ME without lighting any more. If your favorite interest is offended. Tough!


W. Patrick Lang


I do not seek justice. I seek peace and I don't give a damn about Iranian grievance.

If you think Iranian "grievance" was caused by Iraqi invasion, your understanding of relations between the two regions for the last millennium needs work. pl

W. Patrick Lang


How constructive! What do you want, an encyclopedia of negotiating points? pl

W. Patrick Lang


Thanks. I am surprised at the childish nature of some of the comments. pl

Babak Makkinejad

Col. Lang:

I agree with the observations of Mr. Evans above.

I think also that your ideas are too late for the current historical moment. Even as late as 2002 their pursuit would have been possible but that no longer obtains.

There has been substantial strategic improvement in the position of Iran. US cannot deliver positive inducmemts to Iran - she can only take away her negative inducements (a bombing campaign, sanctions, etc.). I do not see US & EU even beginning to acknowledge that fact - let alone deal with it with any imaginative diplomacy.
In fact the maximalist demand of Iran to "place its nuclear and missile programs under full international controls " is like asking Israel to get rid of her Air Force.

In case of the Occupied Territories, the 2-State solution is over and done with. It is no longer practical. We either have to create a bi-national state over there or else be ready for decades of war - like the Crusader Kingdoms.

I would like further to observe that US cannot deliver the Golan to Syrian and (East) Jerusalem to the Muslims. Israel has a lot of religious Jews - they are fighting a religious war with Islam - without the Al-Quds to the Mislims there will be no peace.

The Iraqi Kurdistan is not a state, a proto-state, or any such thing. It is a tribal con-federation between Barzani and Talebani tribes (and an uneasy one at that). It can only function in a federated Iraq. But then, we come back to the point that you had raised earlier - that Iraq as a political project is over.

I do not believe that your general idea is wrong - I believe that it a fine idea but not within the parameters that you have stipulated - the strategic situations has changed.

I would also strongly advise against the inclusion of UK, France, China, and/or others.

Only the states of the Levant and the Persian Gulf + US and Russia.

cynic librarian

Pat, I think this is an excellent list of agenda items for broader policy and diplomatic efforts.

I express my own concerns with your agenda in terms of what Machiavelli would call liberty. As you will know, Machiavelli defined liberty as the balance of interdependencies within a social complex. This means that one party should not have more power than another and their interests should accord with the interests of all. One sign of an oppressive system is that where one party has creates one-way dependencies. Being inordinately dependent on one side is the recipe for corruption and loss of liberty.

With this definition in mind, I recall the Marxist Zizek's comments relating to the invasion of Iraq. For Zizek, American leftists were akin to those mealy-mouthed accommodaters of Stalin and totalitarian regimes in cold war eastern Europe.

That is, while the Iraqis suffered torture and terrible persecution, leftists sat comfortably and securely in their western liberal legal systems, looking blandly at the atrocities of the Hussein regime while they cast aspersions on perhaps one of the only chances that these people might have to finally escape that oppression.

Yet, Zizek notes that while the hypocrisy of western liberals and leftists is rank, the problem with the US invasion is that it serves US capitalist and political self-interests, most notably those of big oil.

With this in mind, the invasion by the US simply tried to consolidate the hegemonistic imperial designs of those stealth interests that really control the US political system.

With these comments in mind, I think that the US will have to go a long way in assuring all participants in this grand symphony you propose that it does indeed have more than its own interests at heart.

Unfortunately, the history of the US in the region does not harbinger any good in this direction. US foreign policy in the Mideast has always been geared to creating client states whose service to the US is implemented in terms of a one-way dependency. As Machiavelli was keen to show, creating such unequal dependencies is a sure sign of servility and corruption.


PL: "To overcome the instability of the continent and the likelihood that this would lead to further disastrous warfare, the Great Powers of the time met at Vienna after 1815 to create a system of balanced agreements which would bring into equilibrium the interests of all the possible adversaries on the European scene. This system preserved European peace for many years until it came to pieces in August 1914."

In fact, the system did not ensure peace in Europe until 1914. In the middle of the nineteenth century, coinciding with the time of the American Civil War, there was a sequence of wars between the Great Powers: in 1853 - 1856 (UK and France against Russia); the war between France and Austria/Hungary for the unity of Italy; the war between Prussia and Austria/Hungary in 1866; and the Franco Prussian war of 1870. The equilibrium established by the Concert of Europe was destroyed by the resurgent Bonapartist adventurism of Napoleon III, the rise of Prussia/Germany to pre-eminence on the continent, and the slow decline of both France and the Habsburg Empire of Austria Hungary. A new precarious equilibrium was established after 1870, especially due to the efforts of Bismark and Disraeli; but the dominance of Germany in the centre of Europe, the rivalry between Germany and Russia on the one hand, and between Germany and UK on the other, along with the decay of the Turkish and Austro-Hungarian empires made war that finally erupted in 1914 an inevitability. I wonder how relevant all of this is to the present situation in the Middle East.

Duncan Kinder

The president's repeated statements about the "ideological" nature of the war leave no room for the bargaining and compromise inherent in diplomacy.

Buckets of ink have been spilt attempting to explain why the Congress of Vienna, on the one hand, wha such a success but the Treaty of Versailles, on the other, was a prescription for another war.

One factor, however, was that France, the defeated party in the Napoleonic era, nevertheless was a party to the Congress of Vienna. In contrast, neither Germany nor Russia participated in the Treaty of Versailles.

When I was taking his course at Princeton, Bernard Lewis used to say that the only solution to the conflicts in the region would be to turn it back over to the Turks, who alone had been able to govern it effectively. ( Lewis seems to be publicly saying something quite different nowadays. )

While Lewis was speaking sardonically, the idea of restoring the Middle East to the status the Ottoman Empire might have evolved into - had it not been broken up after WWI, is probably one of the better outcomes we could hope for.

Something like this has emerged regarding Russia and China. Following the end of the Cold War, not all problems regarding Russia and China disappeared. There obviously are many material issues outstanding. Nevertheless, the problems Russia and China pose today appear to be ones that we can live with.

That should be our goal regarding the Middle East, not to solve its problems but rather to reduce their scope to ones we can live with.

Unfortunately, Iraq has so aggravated things that I question whether reducing them so is now even possible.

W. Patrick Lang


Yes. I know that Europe was not completely free of war, but these were relatively small wars, nothing in comparison to the Napoleonic wars or 1914-18.

How is that relevant? There will always be small wars. Let us try to avoid the big ones. pl

W. Patrick Lang


Have you contemplated the amount of damage the US could do to Iran? Be careful about giving up on a negotiated sttlement.

"Israel has a lot of religious Jews - they are fighting a religious war with Islam - without the Al-Quds to the Mislims there will be no peace." I think the secular nationalists are the most dangerous from the Muslim point of view. They have few "brakes" on their behavior. pl


Your outline shows real insight into the real values being fought over now, which could just as easily be negotiated over. Very impressive work.

It is highly unlikely that the neocons atop our government will every stray from their ideological views or their black versus white perspective on things.

The one thought I would add is that the nations of the Middle East will no longer be valued so highly as petroleum producers in 25 years. They are all aware of this, and wont to do all their jockeying in the coming decades in a winner takes all struggle to be the one with the strongest economy AFTER the oil is only a trickle.


It's unlikely that any of us commenting is going to sitting at the negotiating tables. I think the point is that discussion, negotiation and reason is a preferable course to chaos and bloodshed, that this course has been successful before, and that all parties involved have clear areas of interest with which they may begin to make deals.

Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, Bush in his press conference today responded to a question about bringing Iran and Syria into talks concerning Iraqi security with his usual, "They know what conditions they have to meet if they want to work with us."

So, if they don't do what we tell them, we won't ask them for their help. This is not bargaining from a strong position by any means. Our troops, as the colonel mentioned in an earlier post, are about the only chip we have at this point. My fear is that the decider will not accept peace and stability unless it comes after "victory," whatever today's definition for that term is in his addled mind.

As has been pointed out, it's not going to be easy to put pressure on the administration now that the election season has passed.

Would it be possible for the other powers (EU, Russia, China, Iran, Israel, Syria, etc.) to achieve a concert without the participation of the US? Present us with a fait accompli?



Allow me to present the Arab perspective to the Concert solution.

You state that Iran pursues a dangerous nuclear program which threatens all its neighbors (including Israel) with the possibility of war and hegemonic domination while meddling deeply in the political destruction of Iraq.

I honestly fail to see how nuclear weapons could be useful to the Iranians as an offensive tool. Forget the fact that the late Ayatollah Kohmeini decreed them to be contrary to Islamic teachings, how and against whom could they be used offensively? Against Israel? Would that not effectively wipe out a good deal of Palestinians not to mention the Shia populations of Southern Lebanon? The gulf nations? To what end? Iran has never had aspirations of conquering neighbouring nations (or at least not for a couple of millenia anyway).

Logically in my mind if they are after nuclear weapons it is only as a detterent to US and/or Israeli ambitions. And if that is the case it would take a lot more than accepting that they are big boys now to get them to give that detterent up. The US isn't going to give up any bombing rights on Iran without Iran accepting Israel. And that isn't going to happen. I think the US will have to accept Iran as a major power in the ME without negotiations because nothing short of a regime change and occupation will change that right now. And any major action by the US would quite possibly be the nudge that sends the region off the precipice.

And to desist from supporting international jihadi terrorism? I am intrigued as to who that is. The only international jiihadis I know of are Al- Qaida and it isnt them. The only other groups are HA and Hamas but surely they dont fall under the international jihadi umbrella.

Kurdistan. A bargain between the US and Turkey? Isn't there the not so small problem of the Iraqis agreeing to this? If the Iraqi secterian problems are resolved and a non-puppet govt. installed, Im guessing they are not going to be overally impressed about the US and Turkey bargaining a large slice of the country and its oil away.

In Lebanon, it should be added that the US should also undertake to refrain from political activities of any kind. As stated above, given the choice of a Syrian overlord and American overlord most Lebanese would opt for the latter for the simple reason that while both may be equally contemptuous of Lebanese wishes, the Syrians do not re-arm those bombing the country.

The Syrians today only wish they had the kind of influence on current events in Lebanon ascribed to them by the West.

In Iraq, yes, start to deal with those opposed to the US presence differently rather than one homogenous group would pay dividends. But if the result is intnded as the stabilisation and rehabilitation of the country and not just a spin excersice to make it look like a victory then this should be done under a UN flag and not an American one. There is too much history now for anyone to want to kiss and make up esp. since the ressistance/insurgents/terrorists, call them what you will, feel like they are winning.

And finally, but most importantly, Israel. If the only demand on Israel is that they undertake to make Palestine (the state) a vital and thriving economy, then this whole concert will be for nought. In fact, you want Iranian influence to wane? Solve the Palestinian issue. You want Syrian influence to wane? Solve the Palestinian issue. You want angry young Arab men to stop signing up to Al Qaida? Solve the Palestinian issue. But solving the Palestinian problem is not going to happen as long as AIPAC decides what US policy is on Palestine. There can be no vital and thriving Palestinian economy if Palestine isn't contiguous and unbroken but that would mean a return to '67 borders. There can be no such state without independent access to resources such as water. And the Israelis will not cede one drop of that water; well not until they finally manage a land invasion of Lebanon and divert the Litani anyway.

Therefore, if the Arab state and "non-state" players are to be convinced of making any changes, the US attitude towards Israel and the Palestinians would have to become far more even handed;
The concert of Europe was an agreement of relatively equally powerful nations. If a similar concert for the Middle East is to have any kind of success, it too has to be a series of agreements between the nations and not a list of US-friendly solutions agreed upon by US-friendly leaders. Otherwise its just a case of same old same old.


Do we have any grounds to believe that any of the leaders of the Middle East is any better (imaginative, competent, knowledgeable, realistic, non-ideological) than G. W. Bush?

How will a conference of Bushes and worse-than-Bushes settle anything?



Fair enough. Key to the whole idea of a Concert of Powers is that the US should take the lead - it will not work otherwise.

The idea is eminently sensible but unlikely to happen until Americans produce a rational administration with the political will to do it.

The only other comment I have is that I thought you elided and you certainly glided over the issues of Israel and Palestine in your listing of the grand bargains. But then again, you did say it was written from a US perspective.



It's a realist foreign policy alternative. Take everyone's interest in consideration and make a deal overseen by the strongest nations who are able to punish deal breakers. In combination with a Marshall plan type of initiative it could work.

The flaw which i suspect the col. already knows is that there are to many who still think they can win in the Middle East like this weeks news have shown. Why deal when you think you can get what you want anyway?

And with US policy being run from 1 observatory circle there will be no change. The neocons a very much running the show judging by the pronouncements from people like Meyrav Wurmser and the actions of Eliot Elliott Abrams. With money and weapons pouring in fueling a Palestinian civil war, the disposing of Assad or unrest in Iran, or the intended build up of forces in the Gulf and Iraq, not to mention a major taliban offensive in Afghanistan everything seems to point to major showdown in 07.

Babak Makkinejad

Col. Lang:

I have read of the amount of damage that US can inflict on Iran. But, in my opinion, that damage, is not strategic.

I am against negogiation between US and Iran but I do not think that the parameters that you have stipulated are workable.

US can inflict severe damage on UK, on France, on Pakistan, on Poland, on Germany, and they cannot do anything to stop it. But I always come to teh same point - what is the point?

To break the resistance of any state you need to kill 5 to 7 percent of her population. You won't be able to do that without nuclear weapons. Which you won't.

So, my recommendation, as always, is when in hole, first stop digging.

You are correct about secular nationalists but I believe in Israel-Palestine the secular nationalist war has been transformed with a war between Judaism and Islam with US being a co-belligerent.

With a lot of work and a lot of money may be it can be brought back into a nationalist war but I do not see that in the cards either.


Col. Lang-

I appreciate the effort, and offer up some points to ponder:

Within the ME, perceptions are (kindly) that Israel plays by its own rules, and the US is seen as being in league with Israel. Thus, in order to deal with the region, there needs to be at least a perception of an 'honest broker.' Your plan asks only for Israel to approve a vague condition, as opposed to something solid, like Shebaa Farms. How can your plan ameliorate this perception?

Your plan doesn't specifically mention Hezbollah, only Shia Lebanese in general (don't forget Amal), and only then within the context of their general position within Lebanon and current alliance with certain Christian Lebanese factions. While removing Syrian influence is a laudable idea, they are only one factor in the complex situation in Lebanon (don't forget that the Syrians were there in the first place as part of the resistance against the Israeli invasion--where are the strictures in your plan against Israel interference in Lebanon?)

In short, my point is that in order to gain any real traction with the Arab states, any solution has to deal with Israel making real concessions--anything less and this is a non-starter. I'm not saying that Israel is the problem, but it needs to be a major part of the solution, or else this exercise risks being perceived as just another colonial band-aid. (I'm not trying to be harsh, just adding my realistic .02)

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