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Engaging Iraq’s Neighbors in Dialogue Could Ease Violence, Expert Argues

In the conclusion of a series on U.S. strategy in Iraq, James Dobbins, director of International Security and Defense Policy Center at the Rand Corporation, discusses how engaging Iraq's neighbors in dialogue could stabilize the war-torn country.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Now, another conversation about what the United States can or should do next in Iraq. Thus far, we've heard about ending the occupation, decentralizing Iraq, improving the training of Iraqi security forces, economic development, and sending more U.S. troops. Tonight, in our sixth and final conversation, engaging Iraq's neighbors, and to Ray Suarez.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    And for that, we turn to James Dobbins, director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the Rand Corporation. He's held top State Department and White House posts under four presidents. As the Bush administration's envoy to Afghanistan, he negotiated with that country's neighbors at the 2001 conference that helped create Kabul's post-Taliban government.

    And, Ambassador Dobbins, how can Iraq's neighbors be useful in helping to stabilize the country?

    JAMES DOBBINS, International Security and Defense Policy Center: Well, I think if we're going to hold the country together, it's important that the Iraqi political leaders are getting convergent rather than divergent pressures from all of the neighboring states, as well as the United States, all of whom have influence, all of whom have interests engaged, all of whom have the capacity to help shape Iraqi opinion.

    If the political leaders are getting divergent pressures, they're going to find it very hard to reconcile themselves and pull the country together. So it's absolutely important that those pressures work in the same direction, rather than in contrary directions, which is pretty much the case at the moment.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Since the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime, hasn't the United States from time to time been worried, suspicious of the neighbors' involvement in Iraq?

  • JAMES DOBBINS:

    I think it has. And, of course, that's all the more reason to engage them. You can't exclude neighboring states from this process. After all, it's them, not us, that are going to get the refugees, the overflow from crime, endemic disease, terrorism and crime, as the result of a fragmenting Iraq.

    They can't afford to stay unengaged. All of them are going to pick favorites; all of them are going to establish clients and surrogates in the country. And if they're left to their own devices, they're going to pursue their interests in a way that tears the country apart, even though that's not what they want.

    It's only if they act together that they can use those pressures to hold the country together, rather than tear it apart.