Saturday, June 13, 2009

Better an Honest "Enemy" Than a Duplicitous "Friend"

To make progress in the Mideast, Obama should walk away from politicians who play the dishonest used car salesman and deal with those who speak honestly. It is far better to negotiate with an honest “enemy” than a duplicitous “friend.”

There are many problems with Hamas, such as their brutality, but it’s exceedingly hard to find any actor in international affairs innocent of that crime. Perhaps what Western leaders really find hard to swallow with Hamas is this organization’s way of violating taboos and speaking the truth. A case in point is the comments following the Hamas meeting with President Carter by Hamas spokesperson Osama Hamdan:

the current talks on a two-state solution while Israel is ongoing with the construction and expansion of settlements is like chasing a mirage.

But this taboo has already been violated by Obama himself, so surely we cannot criticize Hamas for agreeing with him!

Westerners simply must learn to take seriously an organization that can so lucidly point to the essential issue. The contrast between this remark and the endlessly mendacious comments by the Israeli leadership could hardly be more stark.

Arguing with Israeli politicians who are trying to sell some nonsense or other about illegal settlements that are considered by themselves to be legal or the right of Israelis who have stolen Palestinian homes to reproduce endlessly within those homes is a fool’s game that only serves to make Americans look like idiots. The mere fact that Netanyahu can manipulate Washington into playing this game day after day constitutes a victory for Zionist extremists, who, by the way, are increasingly turning to terrorism in order to make Netanyahu appear to be a “moderate” (since he only condones settler attacks on Palestinians, the burning of Palestinian olive trees, and the theft of Palestinian land…rather than personally committing those crimes). When a foreign politician tries to trick the President of the United States, then the President should calmly, politely turn aside and find another party with whom to deal.

The fact that Hamas can speak honestly does not make that organization a “friend,” but for professional managers of international relations, friendship is not the issue. The issue is negotiating a beneficial outcome. It is far better to negotiate with an honest “enemy” than a duplicitous “friend.”

Obama could do far worse in the Mideast than to select adversaries with whom to deal on the basis of the honesty of their public commentary. As with used car salesmen or real estate agents, if an actor in the global political system has something you want and offers a fundamental assessment of the situation that is honest, then contact them and see how far you can get. When the actor starts lying, hang them out to dry, and turn to whichever alternative actor who is currently speaking accurately. Facts are a great basis for making progress, and rewarding those who speak factually might just teach everyone a useful lesson.

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