Thursday, November 6, 2008

Love, Hugs, Kisses and Teddy Bears: Is this Obama's Foreign Policy Plan?

I wonder if Obama's foreign policy team has noticed that our bitterest enemies are fanatics with a world view directly from the 9th Century.

Reason I'm asking is this New Yorker article contrasting McCain and Obama's foreign policy teams. The following quotes are from a guy named Scott Gration, who is a retired Air Force major-general, and apparently one of Obama's 600 foreign policy advisors.

Gration says the US can't force solutions, instead we should:
..Create an environment, give people the opportunity to air their differences, and see if they can come together. We don’t tell them what the solution is, but we do have an obligation—let’s get people in here, find out the needs, see if you can come up with a plan. Don’t try to freeze conflicts!”

“People are more alike than their cultures and religions,” he said. “When Obama talks about global citizens, it’s the same framework. You see, religion and culture—they’re the way people communicate their values. They want stability, order, education. This is just humanness. Then you add on your religion, your culture—that’s how you execute it.”

His implication was that if we can get past the religious and cultural identities that serve as host organisms for conflict, and deal with people at the level of their humanity and their basic needs, then we can make real progress—especially if Obama personally holds an office that permits him to set the tone and lead the effort.

I would have thought that a guy who flew 274 combat missions over Iraq would be a little less optimistic about diplomacy-as-group therapy.

For DECADES, we have been sending envoys (Dennis Ross, for example) back and forth, between the Israelis and Palestinians. We've locked the two sides in the basement at Camp David.

We've held talks, we've held hands, we've sent flowers, we've sent money. Hell, we've sent tons of money. We've withheld money (Reagan and the Israeli loan guarantees) we've begged, pleaded, threatened and cajoled.

And the fact is, if these people were as rational as Gration claims, they'd have made peace by now. What his sunshine-and-teddybears view ignores is the strong possibility that part of the way the Palestinans express their "values" is by hating the Israelis.

When the Israelis wingnuts on the right stop building settlements on land that the Palestinians claims is theirs, and when the Palestinian wingnuts stop saying they want Palestine "From the river to the sea," then, maybe we'll make some progress.

Back when I worked for ABCNews, I interviewed a really smart guy named Yahya Sadowski. This was during the Clinton years when Dennis Ross was shuttling back and forth trying to put together some kind of agreement.

Yahya told me that the administration's position seemed to be that if they just got the two sides together enough, eventually they'd make peace.

This, he explained, was stupid. These guys don't like eachother, he pointed out. There was a very real possibilty that time and the final shreds of good will and willingness to cooperate were running out, and that sending Ross back and forth with the "same old bowl of luke-warm oatmeal" was a waste of effort.

That was in 1997. Looks like we'll try again, only harder.


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