Last week President Bush touched off a media firestorm which is sure to rear its head again this fall. He lambasted “appeasers” who “believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along.''
Ironically Bush uttered these words in Israel, a country that is currently doing the very things he was condemning. The Israelis are indirectly negotiating with Syria (through Turkey) and Hamas (through Egypt). The Syrians are state-sponsors of terrorism; they give money, training and sanctuary to both Hamas and Hezbollah, and are strongly suspected of being behind the 2005 assassination of Lebanese President Rafik Hariri. Meanwhile, Hamas – who violently seized control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007- indiscriminately fire missiles onto southern Israel and are responsible for innumerable suicide bombings.
Let’s put aside for the moment issues like the correctness of criticizing from abroad (personally I don’t really care) or whether an outgoing President should inject himself into the new Presidential campaign (Bush’s comments were –at least in part- a shot at Obama after all). The President is speaking to a fundamental issue regarding our way forward in the Middle East and the fight against terrorism.
There are those who compare negotiating with terrorists and their state sponsors to Neville Chamberlain’s naïve 1938 dealings with Hitler. Hitler very clearly spelled out his intentions in Mein Kampf and letting the Germans take hold of the Sudetenland was futile. In no way did it stop the Nazis from carrying out the rest of their agenda.
Like Hitler Iranian President Ahmedinejad has made in very clear what he wants to do: acquire nukes and “wipe Israel off the face of the map.” Consequently, negotiating with Iran would be an act in futility as well.
The other side of the coin is that diplomacy and appeasment are not the same. We lose nothing by sitting down to talk with our enemies. We negotiated many times with the Soviet Union (even under Ronald Reagan) and under Bush's watch have done so with Iran, Libya, and North Korea.
I have to say that I’m more inclined to talk with no preconditions (with nation states, not terrorists nor any other non-State entities). However, deep down I harbor doubts that this indeed may be naïve, and I do think we should be very careful in what and how we negotiate. Here are two good op-eds from the New York Times on the issue: Yes, We Should ------ No, We Should Not
For an excellent read I highly recommend The Shia Revival, by Vali Nasr. It’s a real eye opening book that summarizes the split between Sunnis and Shia and their history of relations. But the crux of the book is about the sectarian conflict(s) unleashed by the War in Iraq, why they came about, and why they are so important, not just to Iraq, but to the entire region.