“The United States should follow the British example. It should initiate diplomatic contacts with the political wing of Hezbollah. The Obama administration should also look carefully at how to reach moderate Hamas elements and engineer a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation.” ~Roger Cohen
I’ve said before – somewhere – that it makes very little sense to embark on any diplomatic endeavor or peace talk if you don’t first invite all the gunslingers to the table. If you go to the table to talk peace, it makes little sense to leave out the very actors with whom you wish to achieve peace. So not negotiating with Hamas or Tehran or Hezbollah simply doesn’t make any diplomatic sense. Critics of such talks say that they would somehow “legitimize” these players. Would they legitimize them any more than waging war on them does? Didn’t Israel’s two failed wars of recent years, the first against Hezbollah and the second against Hamas, have a legitimizing effect on these groups?
More to the point, Hamas is an elected political party within the occupied territories. Elections certainly carry more weight than peace talks or negotiations in shaping world opinion. Tehran’s nest of vipers have been at this now for three decades – do they really require more legitimacy than longevity provides? In fact, I might say that refusing to negotiate with them gives them even more leverage, or at least places them in a better position to rattle off propagandist nonsense day in and day out.
In any case, the logic behind not inviting your opponents to the table for peace talks is only one of many precedents set in our foreign policy that essentially cause more harm than good to American interests. Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil is all well and good until it banishes from the realm of possibility hearing, seeing, and speaking with those who wish to do you harm and who might, just possibly be dissuaded through negotiations.
A second folly is the maxim: “The American Government does not negotiate with terrorists.” This is ludicrous in a plethora of ways, the foremost being the abstraction required of such a sentiment. There is the possibility, even with terrorists, that negotiations might actually lead to some form of resolution. This is not guaranteed by any means, but as with virtually every aspect of life and politics, these things are rarely universal and should be addressed on a case-by-case basis.
At some point Fatah departed from the realm of terrorist group and entered the realm of legitimate political organization. At some point Hamas will follow this same course. One could imagine that involving these groups in diplomatic talks might actually result in hastening that process; pacifying them, or entangling them in the web of actual diplomacy and governance that forces not just legitimacy in terms of international recognition, but legitimacy on the grounds of actual responsibility.
In some senses Americans have already legitimized a number of terrorists groups by putting them on the government’s payroll, as was the case with the Anbar Awakening. Americans essentially hired insurgents to do their dirty work, while at the same time bribing them into peace. Surely direct talks with hostile governments or “rogue” states and pseudo-military organizations would have less of an adverse effect than the potential blow back from actually paying our rivals.
I suppose, in the end, if the overarching goal in the Middle East is American hegemony – and it is – than we’re damned with perpetual entanglement in the region and the nightmare politics that this intervention inevitably results in. This being the case, we may as well bring everyone to the bloody table and have it out. Not involving the gunslingers who have it in for us the worst is just denial and idealism at their worst. It’s not smart diplomacy because it’s not diplomacy at all. Bringing everyone to the table wouldn’t amount to some horrible weakness or compromise on America’s part. It would be smart and realistic and completely out of character.