“We do not negotiate with terrorists!”
How many times have we heard statesmen so declaim, even as they worked back channels to cut deals with the men with bloody hands with whom they publicly refused, on principle, to negotiate?
FDR negotiated with Stalin, who conducted what historian Robert Conquest calls “The Great Terror.” Nixon went to Beijing and toasted Mao Tse-tung. Reagan sent aides to Tehran, with Bible and cake, to arrange the release of U.S. hostages held by the terrorist accomplices of Iran in Beirut. George W. Bush negotiated a deal with Ghadafi, who engineered the Lockerbie massacre of Pan Am 103.
And Bush succeeded. In return for Libyan payments to the families of the victims and Ghadafi renouncing his weapons of mass destruction, we lifted sanctions. Ghadafi walked. Bush surrogates declared it a triumph. And, perhaps, rightly so.
From 2000 to 2004, Yasser Arafat was a terrorist pariah. Yet no leader had spent more hours with President Clinton, and two Israeli prime ministers shared a Nobel Prize with Arafat.
As scholar Michael Vlahos has written, “terrorist” is a term used to stigmatize one’s enemies and justify a refusal to negotiate. Moscow calls the Chechen rebels terrorists, India calls the Muslim resistance in Kashmir terrorist, and Americans are now shunning Gerry Adams as a leader of IRA terrorists, though Adams was listening to “Danny Boy” at the White House for every St. Patrick’s Day in the last nine.
To end the Algerian terror war, Charles de Gaulle cut a deal with the FLN. To end Vietnam, the United States negotiated with North Vietnamese who had used mass murder at Hue in 1968 as a weapon of war. And so we come to the point.
If President Bush is committed to his democracy project Let the people rule! he must risk a rise to power of Hamas in Palestine, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Or be judged a hypocrite. And it would appear the White House has lately awakened to the implications of free elections in the Middle East. While, in Ukraine, one man, one vote may mean Viktor Yushchenko, south of Beirut it means Sheik Nasrallah.
Friday’s New York Times must have jolted neoconservatives who cheered Bush’s second inaugural. “U.S. Called Ready to See Hezbollah in Lebanon Role,” read the startling headline.
“After years of campaigning against Hezbollah as a terrorist pariah,” wrote reporter Steve Weisman, “the Bush administration is going grudgingly along with efforts by France and the United Nations to steer the party into the Lebanese political mainstream .
“The administration’s shift was described as a reluctant recognition that Hezbollah, besides having a militia and sponsoring attacks on Israel, is an enormous force in Lebanon that could block Western efforts to get Syria to withdraw its troops.”
That acceptance of Hezbollah is where Bush is headed was confirmed for Weisman by an unnamed, appalled source: “‘Hezbollah has American blood on its hands,’ an administration official said, referring to such events as the truck bombing that killed more than 200 American Marines in Beirut in 1983. ‘The administration has an absolute aversion to admitting that Hezbollah has a role to play in Lebanon, but that is the path we are going down.'”
Yet consider: While 241 Marines died in the suicide truck bombing at the Beirut barracks in 1983, more died in the 1988 massacre over Lockerbie, approved and funded by Ghadafi. If Bush can agree to Ghadafi’s rejoining the international community, upon what moral ground do we and he stand to deny recognition to Sheik Nasrallah, who was only 24 when the Marines were killed and had no hand in it?
Nasrallah did not take over Hezbollah until Israel’s military killed the former leader, Sheik Musawi, his wife, and his 3-year-old daughter by helicopter-fired Hellfire missiles in February of 1992. Nasrallah was asked to lead by Iran’s ayatollah.
With his enthusiasm for mass demonstrations, free elections, and majority rule, President Bush has unleashed a whirlwind from which Hamas and Hezbollah may be the beneficiaries. Nor does the president seem to realize that his embrace of a political cause in the region has the effect of an endorsement by Ariel Sharon.
“Why don’t they realize that once America makes a case for something, the Middle East will go in the opposite direction?” an Arab diplomat told Weisman. “Hezbollah is a terrorist organization, but now its hand is strengthened by American opposition.”
Political causes define themselves and advance themselves by choosing the right enemies. In the 1940s, America defined herself as the implacable foe of Hitler. In the Cold War, America’s enemy was communism and the “Evil Empire.” That was moral clarity.
Unfortunately, in the Middle East, the way to advance oneself today is to have as your enemy Israel or the United States of George W. Bush. And thus does Hezbollah advance toward power in Lebanon.