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Iraq: Cause or effect
Media General News Service


November 21, 2006

WASHINGTON -- The Iraq war is being addressed as the cause of the problem in the Arab and Muslim world. But perhaps it is not a cause but an effect of an Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has no visible hope for resolution at the moment.

That was a central message of Prime Minister Tony Blair's call for a broader strategy on Iraq last week. His recommendations were blown off by President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The speech deserved a lot better than that, not just because Blair has stayed with Bush on the deck of the Titanic but because you wonder if the stuff would have hit the iceberg if Blair had been at the helm.

Both Bush and Blair are lame ducks, since Blair - under pressure from his cabinet - has already announced he will quit within the year to give his designated successor, Gordon Brown, a running start. So his speech last week and his teleconference with the Baker-Hamilton study group on Iraq took the form of a last hurrah.

There didn't seem to be a great deal of interest in Blair's wide-angle approach from the Democratic loyal opposition, either. This capital is girding for a big, bloody fight over Iraq next year, not a bipartisan resolution. Nuances are not fashionable in post-election Washington.

All the attention on Blair's speech went to his call for bringing the Iranians and Syrians into the equation. Less understood was Blair's reasons: It's not because they are troublesome neighbors of Iraq but because they claim security problems of their own.

Bush and Rice said nothing doing to talks. As long as the Iranians continue fomenting instability in Iraq and Syria shields extremists and chokes Lebanon, they cannot even sit down at the same table with Iranians and Syrians, said Bush and Rice.

Blair said Iran has a "genuine, if entirely misplaced fear, that the U.S. seeks a military solution in Iran. They don't."

What he didn't say is that the fear of Israel may not be misplaced. Threats have now been made by both sides, directly and pointedly.

Refusing to talk to bad guys has become a familiar theme for this administration. That theme could be one that former Secretary of State James Baker challenges, even though he is an old friend of the family, when he and his Iraq study group present their findings at the end of the year.

The real challenge to America from Tony Blair is where he says coalition partners must now start to build a "whole Middle East" strategy.

The British leader implies that, in exchange for concessions from Iraq and Syria and a cessation of violence in Iraq, the United States must first in some measure come to some understanding with Israel to get negotiations with a Palestinian entity back on track.

Just a line or two of that found its way into Blair's speech last week, but the news was all about his proposed policy change on Syria and Iran.

That's not where we start and it's not the heart of the matter, Blair said.

"On the contrary, we should start with Israel/Palestine. That is the core." If progress can be made there and in Lebanon, Blair said moderate Arab and Muslim could be united to push for peace throughout the region, including Iraq.

"We should be standing up for, empowering, respecting those with a moderate and modern view of the faith of Islam everywhere."

Blair raised alarms about the self destructive path Iran is on. Its statements about wiping Israel off the face of the earth have created a stock market that has lost a third of its value in the last year, he noted.

He said the "single biggest issue" in blocking progress toward peace in the Muslim world was not Iraq but Palestine.

To most of the world, Iran's steady progress toward becoming a nuclear power has been watched as a vague and theoretical threat. To Israel, it has become a real and growing menace, which has been accompanied by threats from Iran's leadership to destroy the Jewish state.

Attention must be paid, said Blair. Right now, the attention is on Iraq, But that may be just the effect.


John Hall is the senior Washington correspondent of Media General News Service.
E-mail jhall(at)
Distributed to subscribers for publication by
Scripps Howard News Service,

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