Former CIA Deputy: "Even Superpowers Have To Talk To Bad Guys."
"(E)ven superpowers have to talk to bad guys. The absence of a diplomatic relationship with Iran and the deterioration of the one with Syria -- two countries that bear enormous responsibility for the current crisis -- leave the United States with fewer options and levers than might otherwise have been the case."
That's part of the message delivered in today's Washington Post editorial page by John McLaughlin, CIA deputy director from 2000 to 2004. McLaughin seems to understand that you can't parachute into obstacle courses like the Middle East. Tough talk may lead to applause lines at home, but they don't make a difference when the audience is a state sponsor of terrorism, let alone the terrorist groups themselves.
As someone who is firmly pro-Israel, and who only supports a two-state solution if the Palestinian leadership ever learns to permanently quash the terrorists among them, I appreciate the Bush Administration's unquestioned support of Israel, and its refusal to promote a cease-fire between Israel, Hamas and Hezbollah, unless that cease fire is backed by an immediate and significant effort toward the long-term halting of the funnelling of money, arms and training from Iran and Syria.
That said, tough talk alone is not policy. "My way or the highway" only works if the other side blinks. And the reality of the situation is that Iran and Syria aren't blinking, Hamas and Hezbollah aren't going away, and the U.S. doesn't have the troops to fight wars simultaneously in three countries.
As McLaughlin writes, that means that the U.S. has to be willing to sit down with the enemy. That doesn't mean the U.S. has to be conciliatory. It does mean we have to put forth some effort.
"Distasteful as it might have been to have or to maintain open and normal relations with such states, the absence of such relations ensures that we will have more blind spots than we can afford and that we will have to deal through surrogates on issues of vital importance to the United States," he writes. "We will have to get over the notion that talking to bad guys somehow rewards them or is a sign of weakness. As a superpower, we ought to be able to communicate in a way that signals our strength and self-confidence."
As Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said last week, "And I would just note that for all of those who believe that we had somehow stability in the Middle East over the last 60 years and it's now been disturbed, where do we think Hezbollah and Hamas and these other extremist forces came from? They weren't born yesterday. These forces have been developing and threatening the Middle East and arresting positive developments for decades."
That includes the time that the Bush Administration has run our foreign policy. The 2002 "Roadmap" had promise, if for no other reason than to insist on the Palestinians' stop terrorist attacks against Israel before it could gain sovereignty. But without backing up those words with a constant leadership role, the U.S. has significantly improved the odds that the "Roadmap" will fail.
But McLaughlin argues that had we been thoroughly entrenched in the effort to change the Middle East -- the Middle East beyond Iraq's borders -- "the chances of detecting and heading off imminent disaster are enhanced."
As the iiberal think tank Center for American Progress noted: "Real diplomacy requires more than just phone calls."
President Nixon's Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, used “shuttle diplomacy” — meeting repeatedly with each party — to negotiate “disengagement agreements" between Israel, Syria, and Egypt following the 1973 Yom Kippur War. In 1996, President Clinton's Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, spent a week shuttling between Damascus and Jerusalem to negotiate a “truce between Israel and Hezbollah.” President Bill Clinton visited Israel in the midst of the 1996 terrorist attacks by Hamas to show U.S. support.
By contrast, Rice will finally visit the region tomorrow.
There needs to be "intense, unrelenting and daily attention by a senior and respected U.S. figure who wakes up every morning worrying about nothing else -- the role that Ambassador Dennis Ross played so effectively in the 1990s," McLaughlin writes. "It is true that plenty of able people in the U.S. government still focus on the Middle East. But without constant tending to the concerns of all the regional parties, rapid flagging of issues for decision in Washington and continuity of focus by one individual with access, we will lurch from crisis to crisis."