The Realist Prism: If Iraq is New Lebanon, Will U.S. Play Syria?

The Realist Prism: If Iraq is New Lebanon, Will U.S. Play Syria?

This week, President Barack Obama reaffirmed U.S. plans to end its combat mission in Iraq at the end of August, and to pull out the 50,000 troops that will remain past that date in a supporting, advisory role by the end of 2011. The president emphatically stated that "we will maintain a transitional force until we remove all our troops from Iraq by the end of next year."

It's not unreasonable to think of Iraq as the new Lebanon -- a fractious and not-so-united nation-state unable to form and sustain coherent governments, and still tottering near the precipice of a renewed civil war. If so, has the United States become its Syria? Put differently, the United States may no longer be willing to engage in open combat in Iraq, but it may have to maintain a military presence in Mesopotamia far beyond any 2011 departure date, in order to provide a certain degree of political stability in the country.

Syria's motives for intervening in the Lebanese civil war in 1975 and its aims in maintaining its forces in that country for a 30-year period are different than Washington's current considerations regarding Iraq. The United States, after all, has no desire to make Iraq its 51st state. But once Syrian forces arrived in Lebanon, they became a critical factor in the domestic balance of power. They did not intervene to prevent continued flare-ups of violence, nor did they move to forestall Israel's 1982 invasion. But especially after the signing of the 1989 Taif accords, which effectively brought an end to Lebanon's civil wars, Syria's presence, while rejected by some in Lebanon, was sought by others who looked to Damascus for protection.

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