- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 7, 2006

In the nearly one year I spent in Iraq after liberation, there was one enemy that consistently undercut our operations and stymied virtually all our finest plans: hope. Seductive, vain, treacherous hope.

We placed our hope in democracy, believing that elections would bring unity to a fractured country and liberty to individuals. We hoped that, in joining the democratic process, different factions would begin to shed their sectarian or ideological aims and join together for the national good. We hoped that the militias would become civic-minded if only they would don the garb of the national police. We hoped that the worst of the Ba’athists would relent after the capture of Saddam Hussein and the death of his sons.

This administration, my neocon friends — we all trusted in hope. We hoped that Moqtada al-Sadr could be won over; that moderates would soon take control; that ideologues would soon learn to advance their cause through the give-and-take of political compromise; and that all the various sects would — please God — once again prove that every religion teaches brotherhood and peace. We were called idealists for believing that democracy and liberty and prosperity and peace could easily come this fractured and troubled land. And we were wrong.

But now it looks like the pragmatists’ turn to put their chips on this Jezebel hope. For instance, we’re now told to believe that by engaging Syria and above all Iran in a “new partnership,” as British Prime Minister Tony Blair has said, that the prospects for peace will improve. The hope is that an Iranian-American dialogue might bring about regional stability and greater security for us as we extricate our forces. After all, aren’t our hopes — stability, an end to the bloodshed, an end to sectarian killings, peace — their hopes, too?

“It’s not appeasement to talk to your enemies,” Iraq Study Group co-Chairman James Baker reminds us. Yet for talking to be effective, there must be some commonality of aims or interest that underlies it. To think that Syria has any stake in regional tranquility or that Iran has anything like our interest in stabilizing Iraq, accommodating Sunni concerns, saving Americans from a humiliating retreat, or even letting more secular Muslims live life by their own light, is to be more idealistic, more hopeful, than even the most fervent neocon. Given the recent history of Iran — which is supplying more lethal IEDs every day to maim and mutilate our troops, which has sent money and materiel to Sheikh Sadr in hopes of killing not only our men and women, but also as many intellectuals, secular Shi’a and religious Sunnis as possible. Given that Iran is also actively pursuing weapons of mass destruction and the extermination of our allies, one might think it realistic to not place too much hope in any new partnership or even in talking.

Besides, starting a dialogue with both Syria and Iran will surely look to all the Muslim world like the preliminary discussions of the terms of our surrender. Even if this is false, what “realists” should understand is that sometimes appearances create their own reality. And if we think that our liberation of Iraq backfired and worked to embolden terrorists worldwide, just think about how what a looks like supine retreat will increase future jihadist recruiting efforts.

To be sure, staying the course is not an option and hasn’t been for well over a year now. Today we have to find radically different ways of politically empowering non-fanatical Sunnis, moderate Shi’a, what’s left of the more secular middle class and Kurds. We have to quit talking pabulum about the loveliness of democracy and our dreams for the future and support the kind of leadership that’s willing to suppress rather than accommodate sectarian gangs and their political henchmen. We have to put forth reasonable and effective ways of eliminating Sheikh Sadr and crippling the Madhi Army. These are hard things to say and even harder things to do. But little of what we do should rest on the hope that Syria and Iran can be made helpful to our interests, or to any interests but their own.

Yes, we can talk all we want. But, if there were ever a time for realism, for knowing our goals and the available means and also understanding clearly the character of those who wish both to hurt and humiliate us, that time has come. Rather than facing facts and making hard choices, it looks as if our so-called pragmatists and realists, like misty-eyed Pollyannas, are now hoping beyond hope that our enemies will help us get out of this mess. If that’s the case, then for America and probably for Iraq, there is no hope.

John Agresto is a former senior adviser to the Iraqi Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research (2003-04) and former president of St. John’s College in New Mexico.

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