President Bush chose an odd place and time to claim that talking to “terrorists and radicals” in the Middle East is like appeasing Hitler in the 1930s. As Bush was speaking in Israel, his preferred strategy against such adversaries was collapsing next door in Lebanon. Over the past two weeks the Lebanese government, which is strongly backed by Washington, decided to confront the Shiite group Hizbullah by firing a loyalist who was head of security at Beirut airport and suspending the group’s dedicated phone network. The Iranian-backed Hizbullah retaliated, taking over large parts of Beirut and paralyzing the country. Last week the Lebanese cabinet humiliatingly reversed itself on both fronts. Iran 1, USA 0.
The Bush administration’s strategy against Hizbullah has consisted of a mix of isolation, belligerence and military pressure. It refuses to talk to the group or its supporters in Tehran and Damascus. Two years ago, Washington unquestioningly supported Israeli Prime Minister’s Ehud Olmert’s decision to attack southern Lebanon, Hizbullah’s stronghold. The United States provides the Lebanese government and Army with aid and has responded to the current crisis by promising to speed up delivery of weapons. Yet today Hizbullah is stronger in Lebanon, Iran is more influential in the region, and the United States and its ally, Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, have been marginalized. [complete article]
Editor’s Comment — It’s not so long ago that it was commonly understood that if you could sit down and talk with your adversary, that, in and of itself, counted as a victory. It meant that the subtler, more constructive and precise power of discourse could – even if only temporarily – replace the blunt power of violence, intimidation and threats. And since it was the belligerent who generally lacked an interest in talking, the challenge was not to get the other side to meet a set of preconditions for negotiation; the challenge was to get the other side to negotiate.
For the last seven years, the Bush administration has been the belligerent power. As the party with a conviction in its ability to be the dominant force – its ability to wield the most destructive power – it is the one that has been unwilling to talk. It protects its ‘right’ to use violence.
When Bush characterizes talking as a form of capitulation, what he is really doing is expressing his conviction in the necessity of forcing the other side into submission. From that perspective, there is of course nothing to negotiate.