Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Ankara Stumbles and Lebanon Slides Down the Slippery Slope

Rushing to be a player, Ankara trips over its own diplomatic feet.

Judging from a Turkish media report, Ankara seems to have stumbled embarrassingly in its Mideast diplomacy, a misstep that seems likely only to aggravate regional tensions. Reportedly, Ankara agreed to join a French initiative designed to exclude Iran from efforts to resolve the Lebanon political crisis, then--following Iranian protests--backtracked and decided to offer its own approach, of course open to all regional players. What could Ankara have possibly been thinking in imagining that participating in an effort shutting out Tehran could either achieve a solution to a problem that has Iran deeply embedded in its essence or enhance Ankara's claims of offering a new style of inclusive diplomacy?

Now, instead of seizing the moral high ground as the leader of regional moderation and conciliation, Ankara appears to be the dupe of Tehran. Tehran will not be pleased because it had to push for the inclusion it should have been able to count on. The West will not be pleased because Ankara has gone back on its word. Such clumsy diplomatic miscalculation sets everyone's teeth on edge; this is not the way to lead a group of violence-prone, zero-sum politicians toward the new win-win world that Davutoglu has been advocating. Ankara's stumble just pushed Lebanon a little further down the slippery slope to chaos.

Can a compromise solution to murder be discovered?

Lebanon's future hangs on a case of murder - that of Hariri senior. At first glance it seems hard to imagine a compromise: someone murdered Hariri and that person should be punished. Disagreeing with Palin, those behind-the-scene manipulators should also be punished. But how...without harming the people of Lebanon? Hariri is not the only regional figure to have been murdered recently. Perhaps the politicians who risk so easily the lives of others could start with the voicing of a general principle: political murders are bad. They could cite the case of Hariri, the case of Iranian nuclear scientists, and the case of the Hamas leader in Dubai, and the case of the Mavi Mamara.
Fortunately, much more is going on, with the Erdogan-Assad-al Thani and Davutoglu-al Thani-Nasrallah meetings being prime examples. But public missteps that violate fundamental principles are costly, and the principle of inclusion of all in an effort to find a compromise seems to be a key component of any real solution.

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