Tooth Fairy Diplomacy

Pat Lang isn’t happy with the signals coming from the nascent Obama Administration about the new administration’s prospective policies with respect to the Middle East:

Words can not express my disappointment if this is the foreign policy that the Obama Administration will follow in the Middle East.

The “Abdullah Plan” is not a plan. It was a public relations stunt in its beginnings when it was exaggerated in meaning by the American media, and it remains that. Crown Prince Abdullah used to have the habit of telling visitors that if the Israelis would do this or that, and withdraw from this or that, then he would appeal to the Arab League for recognition of the State of Israel. In the atmosphere that prevailed following the failure at Camp David II, this was taken as good news by Tom Friedman who visited Abdullah then and who made this Rotary Club “pitch” into a column. Rejoicing took place in the media and at a previously scheduled meeting of the Arab League in Beirut a cornered Prince Abdullah proclaimed his “plan.” The League produced a document. Problem: The text says that when the Israelis and ALL the disputants to various issues with the Israelis resolve their differences, then the members of the League will CONSIDER recognition of Israel.

[…]

And then there is what is reported in the Times on Line piece of the supposed Dennis Ross plan for dealing with the Iranian missile and nuclear programs. He is reported to think that Russia can be persuaded to “muscle” the Iranians into giving up these programs. What would be the Russian motivation? An American cancellation of anti-Iranian missile emplacements in eastern Europe? Do we want to “outsource” our diplomacy to Russia? One must ask why the Iranians would yield to Russian pressure. They have not yielded to any other pressure.

Realism in international relations means the belief that nations have economic and security interests and act to further them. Consequently, a realistic foreign policy must recognize nations’ economic and security interests, at least as the principals see them, and negotiate agreements in which those interests are furthered.

What are the Israelis’ interests? The Saudis’? The Iranians’?

If resolving the problems in the Middle East were easy it would have been accomplished decades ago. My own opinion is that the situation in the Middle East is a wicked problem. No mutually agreeable solution is possible at all. The most that can be hoped for is arriving at a mechanism by which the principals can discuss their differences without coming to blows.

Politicians tend not to like wicked problems. They rarely prompt good campaign slogans.

FILED UNDER: General, , , , ,
Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.

Comments

  1. tom p says:

    the Middle East, it’s a bitch… So why did we ever get so heavily involved there?

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    Many reasons: the oil; the mistaken notion that, since the mantle of world leadership worn by the British had descended on us, we were obligated to adopt their policies, too; missionary activities; Cold War opposition to the Soviets;other domestic interest groups.

  3. Michael says:

    If resolving the problems in the Middle East were easy it would have been accomplished decades ago.

    On the contrary, the problems are quite simple, as are the solutions, it’s getting all sides to accept less than everything they want that has proven to be difficult.

    My own opinion is that the situation in the Middle East is a wicked problem. No mutually agreeable solution is possible at all. The most that can be hoped for is arriving at a mechanism by which the principals can discuss their differences without coming to blows.

    No mutually agreeable solution is possible under the current situation, but change the situation so that they find things they can agree upon, and you open the door to a long-term solution.

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    I think you’re bound for disappointment, Michael.

    change the situation

    How?

  5. John Burgess says:

    Well, considering that the Arab League (I believe Syria abstained) has accepted the Abdullah plan and that Israel think it has merit (with some tinkering), it strikes me as the best bet on the table.

    The two big sticking points are the status of Jerusalem and the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

    The first can be solved through an act of political will by the Israeli government.

    The second can be accomplished through the use of international checkbooks for payment en lieu of actual, physical movement. (See the piece David Perlmutter and I wrote for Asharq Alawsat a couple of years ago.)

    There will be no peace if either side insists on 100% of its preferred solution.

  6. Dave Schuler says:

    I sincerely hope you’re right, John, and that a solution along the lines you’ve suggested is practicable.

    Without putting words into Col. Lang’s mouth, I suspect that his pessimism is influenced by the assumption (or conclusion) that agreeing, hypothetically, to something when you’re convinced that the other side can’t possibly fulfill their side of the bargain is one thing; agreeing to the same terms when they definitely will fulfill their side of the bargain is something else again.

  7. tom p says:

    Many reasons: the oil; the mistaken notion that, since the mantle of world leadership worn by the British had descended on us, we were obligated to adopt their policies, too; missionary activities; Cold War opposition to the Soviets;other domestic interest groups.

    Dave: I hope my question was rhetorically obvious. We had no choice but to get involved there… still, I do wonder why we took up “the mantle of world leadership worn by the British (that) had descended on us, (and) we were obligated to adopt their policies,”

    Many years ago, I told a buddy of mine that “the Mideast would find peace when the Israeli’s and Palestineans hated each other less then they loved their own children”.

    Someday soon, I hope…

  8. Michael says:

    How?

    Letting Iran loose should do it, or an oppressive US presence in Israel, even an expansionist Saudi kingdom would work. Not appealing options, I agree, but mostly easy to achieve.

  9. Michael says:

    On a more realistic note, I like the federal proposal, making Israel and Palestine two states in a single nation, with Jerusalem, the national capital, a part of neither (much like DC is for the US). I’m just not sure that a federal republic can operate effectively with only two states, and there aren’t many neighboring states that could be included that would not subject Israel to the oppression of the majority.

  10. Gippergal says:

    Neither Russia nor Iran have America’s best interests in mind – not least shown by Putin’s puppet visiting Cuba, etc. on a Caribbean holiday.

    To mollify armed communists is as effective as the mothers in the grocery store whining at screaming children; it neither works, nor is it pleasant to witness. The liberal illuminati need to get out of the 60’s and into the present.

  11. Jeffrey W. Baker says:

    No solution in the middle east is possible because the muslims believe they are god’s favorite people and god wants them to wipe out everybody else. Not coincidentally, the jews believe the same thing about themselves. These mutually incompatible belief systems cannot be reconciled and therefore no solution is possible until the people of the middle east throw off their religious burdens and adopt rational enlightenment.

  12. G.A.Phillips says:

    The liberal illuminati need to get out of the 60’s and into the present.

    But why would they come out the 60’s, then they might have to deal with the foretold future that is unfolding before their eyes,then again I still don’t think they would believe it, it’s is written that many will not, and many prove this every day.

  13. G.A.Phillips says:

    These mutually incompatible belief systems cannot be reconciled and therefore no solution is possible until the people of the middle east throw off their religious burdens and adopt rational enlightenment.

    you see what I mean.

  14. mannning says:

    It seems that some non-participants in the conflict, or the religions, or the governments, have simple, fine, and obvious solutions ready to hand.

    The persistence of this conflict predates the UN- mandated formation of Israel in 1948, and has sparked four major conflicts in the area, and many killing minor ones.

    The “let us sit down and reason together” approach has not worked at least three times, if not more, so far. So I suggest that few of us are able to do more than blow smoke on this complex problem. Our sweet reason is simply not applicable or listened to by the real participants and the real authorities. In fact, our ineffective dabbling on both sides has put the Israelis in a very pecarious position.

    Here are a few questions that ought to be answered first:

    1. Are we going to defend Israel effectively, or not?
    2. Are we willing for Israel to simply disappear sooner or later under the onslaught its neighbors?
    3. If we are going to defend Israel, then should we be propping up Palestine? Egypt? Jordan? Lebanon?
    4. How much treasure and blood are we willing to lay down for the sake of Israel?
    5. Are we going to do anything about the Iranian nuclear program? Syria?
    6. Having honestly answered these questions to ourselves, can we then, and only then, propose a rational program for the US to follow in this conflict beyond attempting to bribe nations to be good?

    I wonder.

  15. Brett says:

    I can see why you think it’s a Wicked Problem, Dave. You realistically need several things to happen for an Israeli-Palestine peace to work – you need to pay off the Palestinians in the camps (since getting into intergenerational Right of Return is a major can of worms), help out the PA in the West Bank, and then somehow split the two states from each other, since there’s always going to be factions in Israel who are completely unwilling to give up “Judea and Samaria”, and there will probably always be Palestinians who want to go “home.”

    I think the real killer, though, is that you need the above to hold for several generations, so that the bad blood can die off.

  16. Dave Schuler says:

    I think it’s a wicked problem because there’s no stopping rule, the stakeholders have different understandings of the problem and different worldviews, and every “solution” redefines the problem.

    Note that I don’t just mean the problems between the Israelis and the Palestinians. I think the problems in the Middle East are significantly larger than that, just one of the many interlocking confounding issues.

    As I said above, I sincerely hope that John Burgess is right about the Israeli-Palestinian situation but I have a niggling suspicion that he’s not. The problem is that the leadership, particularly on the Palestinian side, has no willingness to risk their own lives and power to enforce any deal and may not have the ability to do so.

    That means that the Israelis or, worse, we could end up paying for a 100% solution when there’s no 100% solution to be had, only a 90%, 80%, or even 50% solution. I don’t think the Israelis will accept that and we’ll be right back to square one.