Thursday, May 07, 2009

Brzezinski on the new Haass book.

A Tale of Two Wars | Foreign Affairs

The book title refers to the U.S.-led wars against Iraq in 1990-91 and 2003. The first is described by Haass as a "war of necessity" and the second as a "war of choice". For anyone who has followed the debate over the merits of invading Iraq in 2003 the arguments will be familiar. Haass offers, and BZ endorses a realist critique of the 2003 as a war launched by conviction and fear-mongering rather than by a careful weighing of evidence and defining of objectives.

I find the comments on the Israeli-Palestinian more directly relevant to the challenges facing the Obama administration today. Haass argues that the first Bush administration made a key decision to assert U.S. leadership to reach a settlement in the core conflict. Of course, Bush failed to win re-election and rather than the peacemaking momentum being sustained by the subsequent Clinton administration "waffled" (BZ's term) until the last year in office. As for Bush II, he endorsed a vague roadmap that offered Israel license to do pretty much what they pleased and he failed to lend the weight of is office to reach a settlement, notwithstanding face-time with Mahmoud 'Abbas. George W. Bush promised a settlement by the time he left office, but instead the hapless Condoleezza Rice gained ownership of a U.S. effort that earned derision in both Palestinian and Israeli circles.

Those of you who have read my Current History essays over the years, will recognize the critique.

In his review, Brzezinski builds on Haass's critique to argue that President Obama has to lead if there is to be a settlement:

"President Barack Obama should draw an important lesson from Haass' insightful memoir. If the new president is to avoid in the Middle East not only the gross errors of his immediate predecessor but also the much too long-lasting passivity of the Clinton years, he truly has to lead. Admittedly, making matters more difficult for him is the legacy of the last 16 years, when a subtle shift took place in the U.S. approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: the United States moved from being a genuine mediator seeking to nudge both sides toward peace to holding a posture of thinly veiled partiality in favor of one of the parties to the conflict. The result has been detrimental to the prospects for peace -- for without engaged and genuinely forthright U.S. mediation, the two parties to the conflict have shown themselves to be unable to reach a genuine compromise."

And there is little time left on the this BBC piece on Bethleham illustrates.

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