But we already know that both Syria and Iran have cooperated with us in the past when they believed that their interests coincided with those of the United States. In the aftermath of 9/11, the Syrians were obliging enough to accept a deported Canadian citizen whom we deported, and to torture and interrogate him on our behalf. (Unfortunately, he was innocent.) During that same period, the Iranians were helpful in western Afghanistan when the U.S. and its allies overthrew the Taliban.
There is no reason to exaggerate those exceptions—or to pretend that the Syrian and Iranian regimes are anything but deplorable in their domestic conduct and foreign policy. But it is also true that those governments and the societies they control are more complex than our warmongers would tell us. Close observers of Iran, for instance, believe that our threatening attitude actually weakens the democratic forces in their struggle with the mullahs—and that improved relations, including normal diplomatic exchanges, could only strengthen reformers.
Is there reason to believe that negotiating with the Iranians or the Syrians today would lead to any worthwhile result? Our friends and allies in the Iraqi government—whose survival we have ensured with thousands of American casualties and hundreds of billions of American dollars—certainly think so. The Iraqi diplomats talk with their counterparts in Damascus and Tehran every day.
Those facts won’t dissuade the neoconservatives both within and outside the Bush administration from maligning any gestures toward realism. They continuously seek to stir hysteria about Iran and to discredit any diplomatic and political alternatives to military action.
We are still living with the terrible consequences of the last great neoconservative triumph—namely the war in Iraq—and the enhanced power that their errors have bestowed so ironically on Iran. In coping with that reality, it is long since time that we learned to ignore their bad advice.