U.S. Plays Follow the Leader in the Middle East

The U.S. has now publicly removed its objections to Turkey-mediated discussions between Israel and Syria, although Condoleeza Rice argued the talks should be tied to Syria’s involvement in Lebanon. She also expressed her skepticism that Syria was willing to change the behavior that led to American efforts to isolate it in the first place.

It’s interesting to note that the EU3+3’s package of incentives for Iran was also put forward over the U.S.’s grumbled objections. Rice publicly expressed her skepticism, saying, “Diplomacy has many forms. . .and it’s not always a matter of sweeter.” That makes two crucial regional dossiers where America is essentially following the lead of its strategic partners, albeit grudgingly, instead of the other way around.

To me, this underscores the way in which sometimes being right is overrated. The American position on Iran’s and Syria’s destabilizing regional influence, while fundamentally correct, doesn’t advance our interests, or those of our partners. That leaves us little choice but to then piggy back on our partners’ initiatives, which are subsequently undermined by our refusal to truly buy into them.

Good cop/bad cop only works if the perp, a) is really afraid of the bad cop; and b) really believes that cooperating with the good cop will offer some protection. Right now neither of those conditions hold true, which is why we’re in for some rough sledding in terms of our broader regional policy.

Another way to look at it is that for the past seven years (and in some cases beyond), we’ve put broad regional pre-conditions on individual negotiations, while at the same time not rewarding individual successes (ie. Iran’s participation in stabilizing Afghanistan) with broader regional concessions. Carrots and sticks works both ways.

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