Here’s to Condi…
After five years of impotent hawkish posturing has done nothing to restrain North Korea’s nuclear program, the Bush Administration is finally showing the maturity to admit defeat — by its actions, if not in as many words. It was reported this week that the Administration is planning to offer North Korea direct negotiations over a comprehensive peace treaty — a longstanding demand of Pyongyang’s — if it agrees to return to the Six Party talks over its nuclear program. Not only would that reverse the position adopted at the behest of the hawks (and the occasion of Colin Powell’s first public humiliation as Secretary of State when Bush second-guessed him days after he announced that the new administration would follow the Clinton policy of engagement with North Korea) that no concessions could be offered to North Korea; it also effectively takes regime-change off the table.
The U.S. had no choice, because the policy pushed by the hawks had achieved diddly squat. It had entered the six-party process imagining it was building a diplomatic united front to squeeze North Korea, but instead it created a consensus against its own policies of refusing to negotiate directly with North Korea and offer it security guarantees. The Chinese, Russians and South Koreans shared U.S. concerns over Pyongyang’s nuclear efforts, but they saw Washington’s own hardline positions as part of the problem. Eventually, Beijing made clear that the U.S. would have to engage, or the process would collapse and the U.S. would be blamed.
Credit to the Administration for recognizing it was on a hiding to nothing, and changing course. The hawks led by Cheney and Rumsfeld offered only red-meat rhetoric for the conservative base and self-righteous posturing. Their policy was bankrupt from the get-go, and yet it was Powell who was frozen out and the politically-adolescent Cheney who managed to set the course. When it comes to national security policy, this man has yet to demonstrate an even casual relationship with reality. He doesn’t belong within miles of grownup conversation over how to handle these complex crises. John Wayne was just an actor, Dick.
But having decided to grow up on North Korea, it becomes a matter of urgency that the Administration does the same on Iran. There is simply no logical or coherent argument against holding direct talks with Tehran, and offering it security guarantees as part of a package of incentives, if the objective is to prevent it going nuclear. And just as on North Korea, the Administration may think it’s building a diplomatic united front against Iran, but it’s ignoring the fact that most of its partners in that process don’t share the U.S. appetite for regime change and want it to talk directly with Tehran. Unless the Administration wants to blunder its way into another armed conflict that will — at great cost to life and limb everywhere — hasten the decline of the U.S. strategic position in the world, it needs to fashion a credible diplomatic strategy. Like it appears to be ready to do on North Korea.
And if it’s going to do some growing up, the other area in which its political immaturity has become an exceedingly dangerous thing is its determination to reverse the results of the Palestinian election, even if that means destorying the Palestinian Authority and the lives of many ordinary Palestinians. Jimmy Carter put it more eloquently than I ever could:
Innocent Palestinian people are being treated like animals, with the presumption that they are guilty of some crime. Because they voted for candidates who are members of Hamas, the United States government has become the driving force behind an apparently effective scheme of depriving the general public of income, access to the outside world and the necessities of life.
Overwhelmingly, these are school teachers, nurses, social workers, police officers, farm families, shopkeepers, and their employees and families who are just hoping for a better life…
One clear reason for the surprising Hamas victory for legislative seats was that the voters were in despair about prospects for peace. With American acquiescence, the Israelis had avoided any substantive peace talks for more than five years, regardless of who had been chosen to represent the Palestinian side as interlocutor… There is no doubt that Israelis and Palestinians both want a durable two-state solution, but depriving the people of Palestine of their basic human rights just to punish their elected leaders is not a path to peace.
Their efforts to overthrow the elected Palestinian government by means of a financial blockade are not only starving Palestinians, they are also raising tensions between Palestinian factions to the point that the danger of civil war is more palpable than ever. If the Palestinian Authority collapses, the Palestinians will suffer, Israel will suffer (and it will be forced, as the occupying power, to resume its direct civil administration over Palestinian cities) and the U.S. hopes for ever winning its ideological battle with the Bin Laden worldview will be dead and buried. And yet the Administration seems stuck in its teenage ideological fantasies about being able to remake Palestinian politics to its own specification.
They didn’t like Powell because he was a grownup, warning them of the consequences of pursuing ideological visions with no regard for the realities on the ground. For the same reason they have been ignoring the grownups of Bush’s father’s generation who have been predicting the disasters that the current Bush administration has authored. But the Korea shift suggests they are capable of growing up. And it’s become a matter of life-or-death urgency for much of the planet that they do so as quickly as possible.