Yesterday I had the honor of meeting Barry Rubin, one of the most knowledgeable people around about the Mideast. One of the questions I asked him was this:
FZ: We know that Syria is closely allied with Iran, receiving a large amount of weapons and other aid. We also know that Syria is helping Sunni insurgents in Iraq, who are fighting with Americans there, but who also are killing Iraqi Shiites in murderous suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks. But if Iran is trying to gain influence in Iraq through the Shiites there, why does it permit (or even encourage) this?
Rubin replied, in effect, that if you understand this, you understand the Middle East.
Iran and Syria have a common goal, which is to increase their joint influence in Iraq and to hurt the US. The insurgent attacks accomplish this in several ways, including making the Iraqi government more dependent on Iran and less on the US — to whom can they turn to make the attacks stop? — and by weakening American-aligned Shiites like PM Nouri al-Maliki and strengthening those closer to Iran such as the followers of Moqtada al-Sadr.
Dead Iraqis, both Sunni and Shia? Collateral damage.
One would think that the US would do everything it could to help Maliki — and incidentally protect our troops in Iraq — like put pressure on Syria to close the border. But here’s what Rubin wrote last week:
Remember that the Iraqi government has been warning about this for months, blaming Damascus for specific attacks based on evidence and interrogations. When this last happened in September, the U.S. government refused to take Baghdad’s side. Nor was there any break in the move to engage Syria. Nor was there any interruption–in fact, the exact opposite–in the European move to make a partnership agreement which would pump more money into Syria.
What are our policymakers thinking?
It’s almost as if, instead of doing what it can to ensure that Iraq will remain independent when US troops leave (I know, it’s unlikely in any event), we have accepted the idea that it will join the Iranian orbit, and are acting to ingratiate ourselves with the new regional leaders, Iraq and Syria.