Rules for Diplomacy
Paris, May 22, 2008 – The American presidential campaign becomes steadily more deeply mired in hypocritical issues, falsified attacks and fake indignation, as recently expressed by the president of the United States himself (on foreign soil).
Hillary Clinton and John McCain's attacks on Barack Obama have not included the allegation of appeasement of terrorism, as the president's Knesset speech did by implication. McCain attacks Obama's willingness to violate the absurd American practice in recent years of refusing to talk to any of the country's opponents, without their having preemptively yielded on the matters in contention. This is a position that not only contradicts McCain's own past position on the matter, but is an argument contemptuous of the common sense of the American voter, undoubtedly contributing to the "bitterness" towards politicians felt by many voters.
Hillary Clinton, far gone in denial, now complains that voter misogyny has prevented her from winning the primary campaign. Her husband has played the racial card, also contributing to voters' bitterness that they should be taken as bigots or idiots. She has also made much of her shock-horror that Obama believes in diplomatic negotiations, while her own reference to the "total obliteration" of Iran excited less press interest than Obama's lack of a flag-pin.
In these circumstances it has been an unexpected pleasure to find that the Israelis have been in secret negotiations with Syria -- the very people who are supposed to benefit from the American political class's refusal to talk with "terrorist states" and the other nations unilaterally designed "rogues" by the Department of State or by Congress.
It is eminently sensible of the Israeli government to accept the Turkish government's initiative in mediating talks between Damascus, which is on the American "terrorist-sponsor" blacklist, and Jerusalem on the possible terms for a negotiated return of the Syrian Golan Heights (seized by Israel during the 1967 war) in exchange for appropriate concessions by Syria.
Syria provides a link between Iran and both Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas inside Gaza and the Palestinian territories. Possibly nothing will come of these discussions – they have been tried before -- but if you want something, it is intelligent to go to the people who can give it to you. Even if doing so is an action whose advocacy is blacklisted by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Notable also has been the Qatar and Arab League organization and support for the long-deadlocked effort to acknowledge redistributed communitarian power relations in Lebanon. Hezbollah emerges strengthened, but that has been inevitable since Hezbollah, based in the relatively poor Shi'ite community which has been the object of discrimination in the past, succeeded in 2000 in forcing an end to Israel's occupation in south Lebanon. Then in 2006, it halted and turned back Israel's invasion of Lebanon.
The position defended by Hillary Clinton and John McCain would seem to be the same as that of the Bush administration, and to varying extent that of its predecessors, that American foreign relations with other than allies should be based on military action or intimidation, economic and political compulsion, blackmail and sanctions, and public invective and insult combined with sanctimonious and moralizing "public diplomacy."
In practice this usually is neither successful nor dignified, undermining American credibility and respect. Working on a book this week I came across a familiar and edifying quotation from the great American political thinker and diplomatic figure, George F. Kennan. It is from his memoirs, published in 1993.
It describes how he would like the United States to conduct itself in its international relations. I recommend it to both John McCain and Barack Onama. After observing that democracy is not readily exported, since to do so successfully requires that "a people understand what it means, want it, and be willing to sacrifice for it," he says the United States should conduct itself "at all times in world affairs as befits a country of its size and importance." This would mean, he writes:
- that it would show patience, generosity and a uniformly accommodating spirit in dealing with small countries and small matters;
- that it would observe reasonableness, consistency, and steady adherence to principle in dealings with large countries and large matters;
- that it would observe in all official exchanges with other governments a high tone of dignity, courtesy, and moderation of expression;
- that, while always bearing in mind that its first duty is to the national interest, it would never lose sight of the principle that the greatest service this country could render to the rest of the world would be to put its own house in order and to make of American civilization an example of decency, humanity and societal success from which others could derive whatever they might find useful to their own purposes.
What about that as a plank in a campaign platform?
©Copyright 2008 by Tribune Media Services International. All Rights Reserved.
This article comes from William PFAFF
The URL for this article is: