The Magazine

Dangerous Illusions

Peace-processing our way to disaster.

Jun 11, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 37 • By REUEL MARC GERECHT
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What America can actually do in the Israeli-Palestinian imbroglio is now irrelevant. What is sad, however, and worrisome, is the extent to which the administration's actions reveal its philosophical crack-up. Where once the administration tried to understand the spread of Islamic radicalism (the president's vivid allusions to American support of autocracy in the Middle East were path-breaking), the administration is now defaulting to language and priorities typical of the decades that the president once criticized. The State Department, a profoundly conservative and cautious institution that, like all foreign ministries, exists to fortify government-to-government relations, has always been waiting to bring back the familiar, comparatively manageable world of Israeli-Fatah negotiations.

The White House, under fewer illusions, may simply want to maintain the appearance of peace-processing for the benefit of transatlantic ties. There is an argument for this, given the essential European role in imposing serious sanctions against an Iran that is pursuing nuclear weaponry. Just a little sop to keep the Palestinian-focused BBC and Bundestag happy. And the Europeans don't require much since the undeniable popular power of Hamas, its hard-to-conceal ugly ethics, and its blatant revulsion for Israel have severely tarnished the once romantic Palestinian cause.

But no more than a sop is justified. The sooner Washington gets beyond the peace process, the sooner both Democrats and Republicans can think more seriously about how to deal with rising Islamic radicalism in the Middle East and the threat it poses to the West. Returning to the pre-9/11 preference for stable Muslim autocracies and the peace process is a dangerous cul-de-sac.

The mess in Iraq has also allowed the idea of possibly productive negotiations with Iran's mullahs to take hold in Washington. However, only staunch doves and "realists" who are blind to the reality of power politics in the region can look optimistically upon the negotiations between the United States and Iran. We have a clerical regime that has aided and abetted virulently anti-American, radical Iraqi groups, exported to Iraq sophisticated automatic explosive devices designed to kill American and British soldiers, pushed forward defiantly its construction of uranium-enriching centrifuges, and kidnapped at least five American citizens in Iran, four of them Iranian-American dual-nationals. Utterly bogus espionage charges have been hurled at three, including Haleh Esfandiari, the director of the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center in Washington. Like her boss, former congressman Lee Hamilton, a chairman of the Iraq Study Group, Ms. Esfandiari has been an advocate of reconciliation between the United States and her homeland.

Note: The espionage charges were thrown at these Americans, who had absolutely nothing to do with U.S. intelligence and would have recoiled from any advocacy of "regime change," a day after the May 28 meeting between the Americans and Iranians in Baghdad. This isn't rocket science. We have a meeting, and the regime in Tehran wants to make crystal clear its contempt for any suggestion that the mullahs might want to build a bridge or two. The clerical regime hasn't been killing American and British soldiers in Iraq because they think it's counterproductive. They haven't been aiding radical Shiite groups because it's counterproductive. It looks increasingly likely that Iran has also aided Sunni insurgents--which the mullahs apparently don't think is counterproductive. The truth about Iran's revolutionary elite is that they have little regard for the Iraqi Shia, whom they blame for failing to rise against Saddam Hussein during the 1980-'88 Iran-Iraq war. Compromising the Iraqi Shia for the greater goal of hurting the United States and radicalizing the Iraqi Shiite community is undoubtedly seen in Tehran as a price worth paying.