Ron Brownstein nails why John McCain’s whining and crying about mean ol’ liberals quoting his oft-repeated dictum that he thinks our troops should stay in Iraq for 100 years rings so hollow — he won’t explain what he does think the future mission of our troops should be. As I’ve said before, McCain obviously isn’t in a position to decide what our troops are doing in the 22nd century, but all indications are that he would keep on fighting the war throughout a four or eight year term in the White House.
Our guest blogger is Brian Katulis, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
With attempts to achieve a de-escalation of the violence in Gaza and southern Israel appearing to yield results in Egypt this week, the question that arises is what does it mean to “engage” Hamas? The idea of engaging Hamas has grown in vogue among some quarters in the national security debate and deserves closer scrutiny.
The long-standing dilemma of whether or not to engage the Palestinian terrorist organization directly in diplomacy became an even hotter topic after the January 2006 Palestinian elections brought Hamas to power. The debate only grew after Hamas used force to oust its rivals in Gaza in June 2007. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s visits last month with Hamas leaders once again put the focus on the issue– making it seem like simply sitting down with Hamas leaders without conditions could make the Middle East’s multiple problems melt away after a few handshakes.
Ghaith Al-Omari, the director of advocacy at the American Task Force on Palestine and a former peace negotiator and advisor to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, outlines the downsides of unconditional engagement with Hamas in a piece today for the Middle East Bulletin of the Center for American Progress.
The article challenges the conventional wisdom among some analysts who make it seem that engaging Hamas is the lynchpin to advancing a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Al-Omari argues that “any engagement that goes beyond achieving de-escalation in Gaza would serve to bolster Hamas at the expense of those working toward a two-state solution.” He highlights tremendous downsides to an approach of unconditional engagement, including the fact that it would undermine pragmatic and moderate Palestinian leaders who are putting everything on the line to work for a two-state solution and send the message that extremism and violence pays.
It’s an important perspective to have in a debate that has been dominated by two extreme polar opposites – one that says Hamas engagement is essential for resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the other that says the completely ignoring Hamas is the only way forward. Omari’s argument recognizes that pragmatically dealing with Hamas is necessary for getting to some de-escalation of the current violence – but that taking the Hamas engagement arguments as far as others do tend to ignore some important realities and may very well overstate the benefits of an unconditional engagement with Hamas.
A few unforced errors from John McCain on the campaign trail. At a town meeting in Denver, trying to build suspense for the upcoming roll-out of his energy plan, McCain assured an admiring audience:
My friends, I will have an energy policy that we will be talking about, which will eliminate our dependence on oil from the Middle East that will — that will then prevent us — that will prevent us from having ever to send our young men and women into conflict again in the Middle East.
This is bad on a couple levels. There’s the obvious gaffe in suggesting that the U.S. is fighting the Iraq war over oil (something which many already believe). Then there’s the fact that the U.S. already gets the majority of its oil from regions other than the Middle East. Finally, regardless of how much oil the U.S. does or does not get from the Middle East, other countries will certainly still be getting it from there, developing economies such as China’s absolutely depend upon it, and thus securing and ensuring continued access to Middle East oil will be a central element of any global economic and security framework for the foreseeable future. One would hope that anyone running for president understands this.
After we win the war in Iraq … then I’m talking about a security arrangement that may or may not be the same kind of thing we have with South — with Korea.
In 2005, McCain rejected the South Korea model for Iraq, saying that he “hoped we could bring them [the troops] all home.” Last August, McCain said that the Korea model was “exactly” the right idea. Then in November he changed his mind again, saying the he didn’t think the South Korea analogy was a good one. Then in January, he was back in favor of the South Korea model, offering it in support of his “100 years” remark.
Now it appears that McCain has settled on a little from column A, and a little from column B.
UPDATE: Here’s the video of McCain’s oil comments:
‘Senior U.S. Official’: McCain’s Plan To Kick Russia Out Of The G8 Is ‘Impossible’ And ‘Just A Dumb Thing’
In his March 26 speech on foreign policy, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) laid out what Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria calls “the most radical idea put forward by a major candidate for the presidency in 25 years.” McCain, seeking to make “his most comprehensive statement” yet on foreign policy, declared that Russia should be kicked out of the G8, of which it has been a member since 1997:
We should start by ensuring that the G-8, the group of eight highly industrialized states, becomes again a club of leading market democracies: it should include Brazil and India but exclude Russia. Rather than tolerate Russia’s nuclear blackmail or cyber attacks, Western nations should make clear that the solidarity of NATO, from the Baltic to the Black Sea, is indivisible and that the organization’s doors remain open to all democracies committed to the defense of freedom.
In his column, Zakaria writes that McCain’s radical idea “lacks any strategic framework” because “we need Russian cooperation” in order to address the “most important security problem[s] that the United States faces,” which is “securing loose nuclear materials” and stopping proliferation by rogue regimes. Now, according to McClatchy, it also appears that it is “impossible“:
The Group of Eight, or G-8, as it’s popularly known, makes decisions by consensus, so no single nation can kick out another. Most experts say the six other countries — Great Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Japan and Canada — would never agree to toss Russia, given their close economic ties to their neighbor. A senior U.S. official who deals with Russia policy said that even Moscow would have to approve of its own ouster, given how the G-8 works.
”It’s not even a theoretical discussion. It’s an impossible discussion,” said the senior official, who requested anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly. “It’s just a dumb thing.”
McCain’s plan to boot Russia from the G8 isn’t the first idea proposed in the March 26 speech that has been shot down by reality. In the speech, McCain also spoke of creating a “League of Democracies” to “advance our values and defend our shared interests.”
But, as the Los Angeles Times recently reported, McCain is already backing away from that idea because it was “greeted with alarm by some Republican supporters and wariness by important U.S. allies.”
I was on a radio show last night where I wound up in a debate about whether or not diplomacy was likely to be able to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue in a satisfactory manner. It occurred to me that one issue I was having that, in retrospect, often fogs these issues, is that my interlocutor wanted to conceive of diplomacy as a kind of poor man’s coercive tool. Sloppy use of the term “soft power” (which is supposed to mean something quite specific and not really related to this) seems to me to have encouraged people in this error. Like military force is this really awesome coercive tool that maybe you’re hesitant to use, so instead you might try diplomacy, but maybe diplomacy’s not tough enough so we’re back to force.
This is just the wrong way to think about it. The aim of diplomacy in this kind of situation is genuine bargaining aimed at reaching a mutually advantageous agreement. You’re trying to cooperate and realize positive-sum gains, and diplomacy is the process by which those opportunities are identified and exploited. Obviously, such efforts sometimes fail and then maybe you look at coercion, but the diplomatic effort is not, as such, an attempt at coercion. If you think of it as one, you’ll wind up thinking of it as a really shoddy attempt at coercion, and wind up rejecting it out of hand. But making a deal wherein you give someone money in exchange for something you’d rather have than the money it cost to buy doesn’t exist on a continuum with knocking the guy over the head with a sock full of quarters and stealing his stuff — they’re entirely different kinds of interactions.
On the subject of McCain doing his share of cheerleading for Bush’s tactics in Iraq, mooted below, Max Bergmann has a nice roundup of quotes. Fundamentally, though, it’s on the bigger picture strategic vision issues where McCain really looks scary.