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April 18, 2004: In-Your-Face Diplomacy

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In-Your-Face Diplomacy – Timed Just Right to Make Things Much Worse and Force Outstanding Issues to a Head



Things are quite terse in Iraq.  So, you want to things to get worse?  Why not?  We’ve said that we will either capture or kill the nasty Shiite cleric al-Sadr no matter where he’s hiding.  We shut down his newspaper and we’ll get him too.  Who cares about his being a cleric?  He’s a bad guy. 

The more moderate Shiite clerics, led by that Sistani fellow, tell us to back off or ALL Shiites will join the resistance, and all Shiites around the world will do things that we won’t much like. 

But why should we back off?  Like they think we should care about their silly little religion?  The guy is bad news.  At least that's what you pretty much hear from the right these days. 

And some say we should do more to let moderate Muslims know we respect them.  We get rapped for our overt support of Israel.  Well, we claim that’s just not so at all.  We do respect these odd Muslim folks and their funny little pet Palestinians.  Really.  Ask George.  Hey, ask Ariel Sharon!

But enough is enough, at least for the neoconservative folks who run our government and instruct George Bush.  It seems it became time for an “in your face” move to inflame the Arab world, just to show them who’s boss. 

So it looks as if we’ve decided to bring things to a head.  Time to choose sides. 

The bare bones story this week –

Bush Endorses Israel's Plan on West Bank
Barry Schweid, Associated Press Diplomatic Writer, Wednesday, April 14, 2004


WASHINGTON - In a historic policy shift, President Bush on Wednesday endorsed Israel's plan to hold on to part of the West Bank in any final peace settlement with the Palestinians.  Bush also ruled out Palestinian refugees returning to Israel, bringing strong criticism from the Palestinians. 

An elated Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said his plan to pull back from parts of the West Bank and Gaza, hailed by Bush, would create "a new and better reality for the state of Israel."


But Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia — with whom the Bush administration deals while boycotting leader Yasser Arafat — called Bush "the first president who has legitimized the (Israeli) settlements in Palestinian territories."

"We as Palestinians reject that," Qureia said.  "We cannot accept that.  We reject it and we refuse it." Arafat earlier called the idea "the complete end of the peace process." And Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said of Bush's statement: "This is like someone giving a part of Texas' land to China."

"If Israel wants to make peace, it must talk to the Palestinian leadership," Erekat said. 

Palestinian leaders had previously said they had been assured by the Bush administration they would be consulted before any endorsement of Sharon's plan. 

… Previous U.S. administrations have described Jewish settlements as obstacles to peace.  One of Bush's predecessors, Jimmy Carter, went even further and called them illegal. 

A senior Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Sharon thought that no American president had ever made concessions so important to Israel as Bush did on Wednesday. 

… Bush called Sharon's plan historic and urged Palestinians to match Israel's "boldness and courage."

… Past U.S. presidents have operated on the assumption there could be some changes in Israel's borders.  But Bush went much further. 

He committed himself to Israel's retention of parts of the West Bank settlements in a letter to Sharon in which he said that approach was necessary for Israel's security — an approach long taken by the former general. 

In another major concession sought by Sharon, Bush said a final peace deal should provide for Palestinian refugees to be resettled in a Palestinian state, not in Israel. 


And that’s leaving out detail. 

Aside from the timing – to send a message to the Arab street and those fighting us the cities in Iraq – what’s up with this?  Israel gives up settlements in Gaza – who wants to live there anyway?  Even the Palestinians don’t want to live there.  But the fact is Israel gives up five settlements in the West Bank, but keeps two hundred thirty thousand settlers there, with the right to expand the remaining settlements. 

What’s up with that? 

An analysis I recommend is over at “Whisky Bar” and contains some interesting observations, including –


This is a shameful capitulation.  … the statement overturns in one stroke almost 40 years of official U.S. policy -- a policy Shrub's father actually showed a fair amount of political courage in defending.  For decades, Israeli leaders (Likud and Labor alike) have worked to create those "new realities on the ground" -- as the statement, with the usual neocon arrogance, describes them -- through illegal land expropriations, relentless discrimination against Palestinian landowners, and lavish government subsidies for Jewish settlers.  And for decades, the U.S. government has refused to accept Israel's bullyboy tactics, despite the relentless, continuous efforts of the pro-Israel lobby in Washington. 

That's gone now -- and probably for good….  Today's statement essentially guts the road map (itself a largely gutless process) by deleting the essential principle that the final status of the territories will not be determined by unilateral action on either side (which in the real world, means on the Israeli side.) It also negates the fundamental premise of UN Resolution 242 -- the bedrock of all peace efforts over the past 40 years -- that territory will not be acquired by force. 

Indeed, Sharon actually ends up with something better than an approved settlement list from Bush.  He gets virtual carte blanche to keep any settlement he wishes to keep -- and indeed, to grab any part of the West Bank he wishes to grab, as long as it can be connected in some way to those "existing major Israeli populations centers." And if you know anything about Israel's settlement policies in the occupied territories, you know how good they are at connecting things. 

By stipulating, in the broadest possible way, the "facts on the ground" that must be incorporated into any final status agreement, the neocons have made a complete mockery of the U.S. commitment to a viable Palestinian state…


Maybe so, but we were (are) getting pushed around in Iraq, so it seem to many of us just a message.  Mess with us Christians and our Jewish Likud friends, and you won’t get jack in the real world. 

The item here continues -


To call this document the most craven, under-handed and one-sided agreement ever negotiated by the U.S. government would be unfair.  There are, after all, those 19th century Indian treaties to take into account.  But it's pretty clear that, rumors of their demise notwithstanding, the neocons are alive and kicking, and still have a death grip on the U.S.-Israeli relationship.  It seems almost inconceivable to me that having plunged America into the bloody quicksand in Iraq, the neocons are now to receive as their reward an only modestly reduced version of their dream of a Greater Israel.  Fuck up and move up indeed. 

The net result of this nasty little backroom deal won't just be further violence and random butchery in the territories and in Israel proper.  It's also going to contribute to the progressive degeneration of the war against terrorism into the war against the Arabs -- if not the war against the entire Islamic world.  The line in front of the Al Qaeda recruiting office is going to get a little bit longer; the struggle to stabilize a rebellious Iraq is going to become a little harder, and a future in which a large part of a major American city disappears in a nuclear firestorm is going to become a little more likely. 


Yeah, but we’ll have made our point about being pushed around by thugs, I guess…. 


But I always liked Henry Kissinger’s Short Definition of Diplomacy: Purposeful Ambiguity.


Considering that President Bush on Wednesday endorsed Israel's plan to hold on to part of the West Bank in any final peace settlement with the Palestinians, I suggest even if this was, maybe, the right thing to do, which I doubt, this is not the time to do it. 

That idea seems to be the idea floating around.  And the idea the shift in policy isn’t good for Israel either. 

See A Handshake That Doesn't Help Israel
David Ignatius, The Washington Post, Friday, April 16, 2004; Page A21

After reviewing the announcements, Ignatius gets to the nub of things. 


Bush supporters would argue that he has done no more than state the obvious: Some Israeli settlements will remain in the West Bank after any "final status" agreement, and Israel will never absorb within its own borders the Palestinian refugees who fled after 1948. 

But Bush ignores the fact that there can be powerful reasons not to say the obvious -- and that studied ambiguity is an important part of successful diplomacy.  That's why six previous administrations had resisted taking the step Bush did Wednesday and endorsing one side's positions in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.  They wanted to preserve America's ability to act as a mediator, in part because they believed that role best served the interests of America's ally, Israel. 

Bush is not a man for diplomatic ambiguity.  He famously prefers to see things in simpler, black-or-white terms.  In particular, he tends to view the world through the narrow and sometimes distorting prism of the war on terrorism.  Asked Wednesday whether Israeli settlements are an impediment to the peace process (which is the position taken by his predecessors for the past 20 years) Bush answered: "The problem is, is that there's terrorists who will kill people in order to stop the process."


Say what?  The answer doesn't match the question!  Has Bush finally started drinking again?  The Daily Mirror has it right.  Their headline after Tuesday’s press conference?  “The President’s Brain Is Missing!”  The full item is here. 

In another item I recently commented - “Well, he’s not wishy-washy.  And people like that.  As John Stewart likes to point out, and many other now do too, Bush is not stupid.  We are.  Bush depends on that.”

Ignatius puts it more eloquently -


This distaste for subtleties is probably part of what many Americans like about Bush -- he's not some fancy-pants diplomat talking all the time about "nuances." But the public should understand that however satisfying Bush's plain talk may be, it can be harmful to the nation's security. 


Then Ignatius gives examples:


The recent turmoil in Iraq offers two examples of how the Bush administration's rhetoric can put the United States out on an awkward limb.  U.S. officials decided to demonize the troublesome Iraqi Shiite cleric, Moqtada Sadr, despite warnings from Iraqis and some U.S. officials that such "capture or kill" tactics would only enhance Sadr's standing. 

Climbing out on that limb was defensible if the administration was certain it would never have to make its way back and negotiate a deal with Sadr.  But it seems increasingly likely that the U.S.-led coalition may have to settle for some negotiated arrangement that allows Sadr and members of his militia to survive as the price of restoring stability within the Shiite community. 

The dangers of demonization are also clear in the United States' relationship with Iran.  Bush set the ultra-moral tone when he designated Iran as part of the "axis of evil" in 2002.  That sort of language is fine if you think you're never going to need to strike a bargain with the evil one.  But who should show up this week in Baghdad to explore a negotiated settlement of the Shiite crisis than an Iranian mediating team.  Iran paid a severe price yesterday when one of its diplomats was assassinated in Baghdad. 

Sources tell me the administration was prodded into accepting Iranian help by the British, who have centuries of experience in supping with devils of one sort or another. 


Ignatius then makes the obvious point. 


Great powers need flexibility.  They should avoid taking public steps that unnecessarily limit their ability to maneuver in private.  They should be cautious about marching up hills without being sure how they will get back down.  They should never (or almost never) say "never."  They should be especially wary of using military force, because once the battle is joined, it can't be abandoned.  To the Bush administration, these may seem like sissies' rules, but they've served successful U.S. presidents well for more than two centuries. 


Well, these guys aren’t sissies. 

But Ignatius argues the sad thing is this new shift in policy was not necessary at all.  He argues the Israelis have powerful security reasons for withdrawing unilaterally from Gaza and dismantling their settlements there.  We didn’t have to take up the issue of the West Bank.  Some things are better left unsaid – ambiguous.  That allows for negotiation.  It doesn’t exclude one side.  We ticked off a lot of folks for no reason. 
As Ignatius says


Bush's disdain for decades of diplomacy is costly for the United States.  At a time when America needs allies in a real war in Iraq and against Islamic terrorists, Bush's polarizing style fends them off.  Saddest of all, in his eagerness to help Israel, Bush may be undermining America's greatest gift to its friend and ally: the ability to help broker a deal with the Palestinians. 



We cannot be any kind of “honest broker” now.  We chose sides.  That’s what we do.  We’re not sissies. 

And Tony Blair came over for talks.  He worked long and hard to get us to commit to the “Roadmap for Peace” – if we did that he’d deliver Britain at our side in the new war to change the government in Iraq, in spite of his nation thinking it utter madness.  Deal.  Now Blair looks like a fool, and Bush smirks, the Arab world seethes, and Ariel Sharon grins – because he has just saved his butt in the upcoming elections in Israel. 

Is everybody happy now? 


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
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