Sunday, July 23, 2006

Even Superpowers Have To Negotiate

John McLaughlin, deputy director of central intelligence in Bush's first term, sees five lessons to be taken from events in the Middle East post-Iraq invasion. Here are numbers four and five [emphasis mine]:

Although the fighting in the Middle East is still raging, it is not too soon to start drawing lessons from these tragic events. Even if this situation begins to cool, there are so many other flashpoints in the Middle East and so many other potential hot spots in the world that any respite from crisis is bound to be short.
Lesson No. 4 is that even superpowers have to talk to bad guys. The absence of a diplomatic relationship with Iran and the deterioration of the one with Syria -- two countries that bear enormous responsibility for the current crisis -- leave the United States with fewer options and levers than might otherwise have been the case. Distasteful as it might have been to have or to maintain open and normal relations with such states, the absence of such relations ensures that we will have more blind spots than we can afford and that we will have to deal through surrogates on issues of vital importance to the United States. We will have to get over the notion that talking to bad guys somehow rewards them or is a sign of weakness. As a superpower, we ought to be able to communicate in a way that signals our strength and self-confidence.

Lesson No. 5 is that there are no unilateral solutions to today's international problems, not even for superpowers. They have been rendered impossible by a host of factors unique to this era -- globalization, the Internet, the technological revolution and the increasing role of non-state actors with influence that spills across existing borders. The disproportionate influence of Hezbollah at the moment illustrates the point. This doesn't mean turning everything over to international forums. But it is tempting to think that successful passage through the current thicket might have been eased by steps such as a series of regional conferences, linked to our allies and to the United Nations, at which all parties could have been forced -- grudgingly and slowly -- to put their cards on the table regarding issues such as Iraq, regionally based terrorism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Would this have gotten us anywhere?

In a region as complex as the Middle East, nothing guarantees progress. But what is clear is that these problems are intertwined, that all the states in the region have vital interests at stake, and that approaching these issues serially will only prolong the familiar cycle of one step forward and two steps back.

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