Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Thanks, But No Thanks

Stephen Hadley, National Security Advisor to President Bush, offers this advice to President-Elect Obama:

"The biggest opportunity for the new administration may be Middle East peace," Stephen Hadley said Wednesday in an address to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He called on the Obama administration not to "reinvent the wheel" and to continue the process that Bush launched in Annapolis, Md., in late 2007.

"First and foremost, this means helping complete the building of the democratic institutions of a Palestinian state," Hadley said. "This work is critical to any future peace. Second, it means using the confidential bilateral negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis already under way to negotiate the peace and build on the substantial progress that already has been made."

The idea that "substantial progress" has been made in the Israeli-Palestinian process seems more farcical than ever in light of the fact the IDF tanks are presently shelling targets in Gaza. Accepting advice from any senior member of the Bush administration, which has consistently engaged in the peace process-when it could be bothered to engage at all-with a thumb pressed heavily on the scale.

Hussein Agha and Robert Malley offer more useful advice in the NY Review of Books:

Amid all this, the question of what ought to be done on the Arab–Israeli front remains unanswered, and that may not be a bad thing. With so much that is novel, and with so much having gone so wrong for so long, basic issues should first be addressed. Among them are the reasons for recurring failures, the effectiveness of US mediation, the wisdom and realism of seeking a comprehensive, across-the-board settlement of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, or even the centrality of that conflict to US interests and the benefits that would accrue to America from its resolution. One also might ponder reasons behind America's chronic ineffectiveness in persuading lesser powers (Arafat, Hamas, Syria, or Hezbollah) to acquiesce in its demands, a pattern that suggests incapacity to identify local political forces, understand their interests, or comprehend their appeal.

Raising such questions might lead to heretical answers, or impractical ones, or none at all. But it is preferable to a headfirst rush to follow costly familiar patterns and to seek the comforting embrace of ideas that have been tried but never worked or that were never tried but can no longer work. Among the flurry of recommendations the next administration will receive, Obama could do worse than consider some simple advice. Don't rush. Take time, take a deep breath, and take stock. Who knows, fresh and more effective policies might even ensue. Now that would be change we could believe in.

To this point I've managed to avoid joining the seemingly growing chorus of cries that echo Edward Luttwak's cry to simply leave the Middle East alone, but I'm closer to that viewpoint than I was only two years ago. Given the colossal failures of the Bush administration, and the movement of the peace process, maybe a deep breath and a pause for thought is the best way to go for now.

No comments: