It has seemed all along that a viable exit strategy in Iraq could not be found that would not leave the Shi'ites in full control of the country. Such an end result, I had assumed, would leave Iraq as an Iranian satellite. Given the endless fanatical hatred of the Islamic Republic for the Great Satan and the Little Satan (the US and Israel) this seemed like a bad idea.
But that may have been because I was not thinking broadly enough, outside the box as it were.
Consider the following scenario - The US announces a timetable for withdrawal (of the troops, not the airpower) - which makes the war effectively over politically as an issue in the US. The Shi'ite militias are incorporated into the government army and heavily armed with US money and assistance. The Shi'ites now outnumber and outgun the Sunnis. The Americans, as already appears, shift both political and military responsibility for the war to the Shi'ite government. As the Americans and British withdraw, the growing scale of the massacres cease to draw any more attention than even larger massacres in Africa do. The civil war grows in intensity even as Western press and public interest in it wane. After vast amounts of bloodshed, the Shi'ites win.
That outcome has been foreseen and dreaded for several years. American policy has pursued the will o' the wisp of a stable balanced Iraq ruled by a constitutional coalition.
It now appears possible that the US might be willing to foster rather than oppose that outcome if Iran could be neutralized. Would Iran be willing to make important concessions to the US and the UN in return for a recognized satellite status of a Shi'ite Iraq? Would Iran shelve its nuclear program and agree to stop funding terrorism in return for suzerainty over Iraq?
If that were true, Syrian control of Lebanon would likely be part of the package. The recent assassination of Pierre Gemayel, the leader of the Maronite Christians in Lebanon might be an early step in the resumption of Syrian control there.
A US-UK rapprochement with Iran and Syria might not be public. It would appear largely as an omission of inflammatory condemnations and threats from Teheran, a phased withdrawal of US-UK troops, the growth of Syrian influence in Lebanon and nothing serious being done about the murders of Pierre Gemayel and Rafik Hariri.
Would such a result benefit or harm Israel? To ask is to answer. Israel's interest is in stopping the Iranian nuclear program. Who governs Iraq is of scant interest so long as no more SCUD's are being launched from there.
The benefit to the US and UK would be that our soldiers would come home and out of harm's way. We might be safer from terrorist attacks. The benefit to the GOP and Labour governments would be that Iraq would not be an issue in 2008 and the next British elections.
Can Iran be trusted to honor its commitments under such a bargain? Presumably there would be ways to make trouble for them if they didn't. Ironically, one of our options might be covert assistance to the Iraqi Sunnis. That is what intelligence services are for. Also with the Army and Marines no longer tied down in Iraq, our military options against Iran, and even more so against Syria, would be greater.