Friday, February 23, 2007

Of How We Calmed the Tides of War

As I have been arguing, there are certain hawkish factions in the United States and Israel that view peaceful, negotiated settlements with Iran, Syria and the Palestinians as equivalent to defeat. In order to achieve a negotiated, region-wide modus vivendi, Israel (and the United States to a lesser degree) would have to make many costly concessions. For the hawks, that represents a price too high - at least while they believe that the US and Israel are capable of imposing their respective wills on the region via superior military capabilities. These are the supposed spoils of unipolarity. War is the means to achieve the maximum benefit. Better to make a "clean break."

In order to achieve these aims, the hawks must remain ever vigilant in order to prevent complications - such as fruitful negotiations - from interfering with the program. Unfortunately for the world, many of those hawks occupy influential policy-shaping roles in the George W. Bush White House. This will be part of his ignominious legacy.

The United States demanded that Israel desist from even exploratory contacts with Syria, of the sort that would test whether Damascus is serious in its declared intentions to hold peace talks with Israel.

In meetings with Israeli officials recently, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was forceful in expressing Washington's view on the matter.

The American argument is that even 'exploratory talks' would be considered a prize in Damascus, whose policy and actions continue to undermine Lebanon's sovereignty and the functioning of its government, while it also continues to stir unrest in Iraq, to the detriment of the U.S. presence there. [...]

When Israeli officials asked Secretary Rice about the possibility of exploring the seriousness of Syria in its calls for peace talks, her response was unequivocal: Don't even think about it.

....Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has so far adopted the strict American position not to respond to the Syrian feelers.

On the other hand, at the Foreign Ministry and within the defense establishment, there is a greater degree of openness to the offers, and the overall view is that the door should not be closed entirely to the Syrians. Similarly, many believe that the Syrian offers should be tested for their sincerity.

Not even exploratory talks. Amazing. M.J. Rosenberg highglights the historical significance:

This may be a first in the history of US foreign policy. The Bush administration is demanding that the Israeli government not explore peace feelers emanating from Damascus.

Here is a list of administrations that encouraged Israel to negotiate with its Arab neighbors (to greater or lesser degrees of success).

Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush 41, and Clinton.

But now, for the first time ever, the United States is telling Israel not to negotiate or even communicate with Syria.

It simply takes your breath away.

Yeah. It does. (hat tip to my AmFoot co-blogger Brian Ulrich)

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