Once it was apparent there were no ''weapons of mass destruction'' in Iraq, President Bush's justification for invading Iraq morphed into a broader security argument. His premise was that democracies are inherently more stable and peaceful than any other form of government. President Bush surmised that democracy would break out in the Middle East. Iraq would be the shining example for others to follow – oil and American-made SUVs for everyone.
Democracy is budding in the Middle East, but it is anything but stable or friendly to U.S. interests and security, economic or otherwise. Iran has a hard-line extremist running the country who denies the Holocaust ever happened. Iraq's religious leaders have more power than any elected governing body. The misery index continues to rise, along with the violence. A free election also brought Hamas to power in Israel. Hamas took over the new Palestinian parliament in January of 2006 and the peace process has been on a downward slide ever since. Remember Hamas? They are the ones who claim they will not rest until Israel is the size of a postage stamp.
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Lebanon also has a political party whose primary platform plank is the destruction of Israel. The party's name is Hezbollah. Like Hamas, before they took control of the entire Palestinian parliament, Hamas pretty well controlled Gaza, just as we are seeing that Hezbollah controls Lebanon. And it doesn't take a Mossad agent to know that Hezbollah and Hamas both receive aid from Iran.
The U.S. has done Iran an enormous favor by invading Iraq. We got rid of their No. 1 enemy, Saddam Hussein. Saddam's weapons of mass destruction had gotten rusty and turned into duds, but he had an enormous standing army that he didn’t mind sending into Iran. The two nations kept each other in a state of arrested violence. With Iran's enemy Saddam Hussein out of power, Iran began to feel more empowered. It has allowed Iran to become the super power in the region.
The Iraq war caused us to take our eye off of Iran. While we were busy fighting in Iraq, Iran was busy developing new strategies and new weapons, including drones. Saddam had only one drone, Iran now has enough that they can afford to export them to Hezbollah. While insurgents (Shiites and Sunnis) were blowing up oil pipelines in Iraq, Iran was making the money to continue supporting terrorism by selling its oil to the world, namely to our friends in China and Russia.
Thanks to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the borders between Mideast states have become very porous, allowing Iran to fund and supply the region's renegades with impunity. The average man on the street in Iraq armed with an AK-47 and some explosives now believes he can take on a real superpower – The United States Of America. Hezbollah has been acquiring rocket missiles for years. They have made their way from Iran to Syria to southern Lebanon. According to a State Department source, Hezbollah has thousands of rockets.
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We have tried force in the region. We have tried democracy. Yet the region is more unstable than at any time in recent memory. Our only option is diplomacy and economic incentives. Two and a half years ago I was in Syria. The European Union was there at the same time on a trade mission. They get it. Engage them economically. Every secretary of state with the exception of Secretary Rice has been to Syria. Secretary Warren Christopher spent the better part of two weeks during the Clinton administration in Syria. Secretary Rice has yet to travel to the region during this current crisis.
We have let the European Union take the lead on diplomacy with Iran. It is time that we stepped up to the plate and take a more active role in the Iran-Syria incentives sweepstakes. Politics is a chess game, and when we leave an open square someone else steps in. It has been important to the voters in South Florida that we not engage directly with Castro's Cuba. Instead, we are spending $80 million dollars beaming television and radio signals to their populace hoping to put democracy in place when Castro dies. Nothing has changed in 45 years. Let's not make the same mistake with Iran and Syria. It is time to engage in real diplomacy with real incentives from the free world and real concessions on the part of Iran and Syria.
As for democracy, President Vladimir Putin said it best when pressed about the state of democracy in Russia. After President Bush told reporters at the G-8 summit that he had told the Russian leader that people in the U.S. wanted Russia to promote the sort of democratic institutions that exist in Iraq, Mr. Putin's response was: ''To be honest, we certainly would not want to have the same kind of democracy as they have in Iraq.''