I've already columnized about President Bush's initial, vacuous and tear-your-hair-out revealing remarks on the 60th anniversary of Israeli statehood here.
What has subsequently generated a nice little political/media firestorm is this statement by the president in yesterday's speech before the Israeli Knesset:
Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: 'Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided.' We have an obligation to call this what it is — the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.
Barack Obama has decided that, having clearly stated that he would talk directly, with no preconditions, with the likes of Iranian Thug-in-Chief Ahmadinejad, that he is "some," and that the president is pre-emptively accusing him of appeasement. (I like Michael Goodwin's rundown here.)
Fine. And why not? It is appeasement. But the significance of this debate is being lost in a childish back-and-forth over whether the president meant Obama by "some," and how huffy Obama can become over the disparagement.
OK. So what is the significance that is being lost? It is not only appeasement to sit down with Iran; it is futile. And here's why: In order to function, the tools of diplomacy require that both sides be susceptible to similar incentives and disincentives. Diplomacy can only fail, from our point of view, when one side (us) operates in this world, and the other side operates in an non-earthly plane (Iran).
My good friend Laurent Murawiec, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute whose latest book is Pandora's Boxes: Mind of Jihad II, explained this concept brilliantly when in 2006 he wrote an important article that I wish all our leaders would read (and understand) entitled "Deterring Those Who Are Already Dead?"
He began this way:
Deterrence works because one is able credibly to threaten the center of
gravity of the enemy: the threat of inflicting unacceptable losses upon him,
whether in a bar brawl or in nuclear escalation. The calculus deterrence
relies upon is: is it worth it? Is the Price/Earning Ratio of the
contemplated action so hugely negative that it would wipe out the capital?
Deterrence works if the price to be paid by the party to be deterred hugely
exceeds his expected earnings. But deterrence only works if the enemy is able and willing to enter the same calculus. If the enemy plays by other rules and calculates by other means, he will not be deterred. There was nothing the Philistines could have done to deter Samson. If the calculus is: I exchange my worthless earthly life against the triumph of Allah on earth, and an eternity of bliss for me, if the enemy wishes to be dead, if to him the Apocalypse is desirable, he will not be deterred.
When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the Mayor of Tehran, he insistently proposed that the main thoroughfares of Tehran should be widened so that, he explained, on the day of his reappearance, the Hidden Imam, Mohamed ibn Hassan, who went into the great occultation in 941 AD could tread spacious avenues. More recently, he told the Indian Foreign Minister that "in two years, everything will be settled," which the visiting dignitary at first
mistook to mean that Iran expected to possess nuclear weapons in two years; he was later bemused to learn what Ahmadinejad had meant, to wit, that the Mahdi would appear in two years, at which points all worldly problems would disappear.
[Hum "Twilight Zone" theme song here.]
This attitude, truly, is not new, nor should it surprise us:
religious notions and their estranged cousins, ideological representations,
determine not only their believers' beliefs but also their believers'
actions. Reality, as it were, is invaded by belief, and belief in turn
shapes the believer's reality. The difference between the religious and the ideologically religious is this: the religious believer accepts that reality is a given, whereas the fanatic gambles everything on a pseudo-reality of what ought to be. The religious believer accepts reality and works at improving it, the fanatic rejects reality, refuses to pass any compromise with it and tries to destroy it and replace it with his fantasy.
As Pat Moynihan memorably told an opponent, "you are entitled to your
opinions, but you are not entitled to your facts." Ahmadjinedi inhabits his
beliefs rather than the common earth. With him we do not share the same
facts, even though we share a planet. The sharing takes the form of bombs
Ahmadjinedi wants to hasten the reappearance of the Hidden Imam, whose
coming, in traditional Muslim, and especially Shiite, apocalyptics, will be
the Sign of the Hour, that the End of Days is nigh. Ahmadinejad's politics
cannot be labelled 'radical,' as opposed to 'moderate.' His politics are
apocalyptic and eschatological. Its vanishing point is not earthly but
otherworldly. Famously Ayatollah Khomeini said: "We have not made a
revolution to lower the price of melon." The task of the Mahdi, when he
reappears, will be to lead the great and final war which will bring about
the extermination of the Unbelievers, the end of Unbelief and the complete
dominion of God's writ upon the whole of mankind. The Umma will inflate to
absorb the rest of the world.
Do you begin to see why, next to the prospect of the Umma inflating to absorb the world, the prospect of lifting sanctions on plasma TVs doesn't cut it as a bargaining chip?
But there is another important point to make about the president's remarks. President Bush is as guilty as anyone of "negotiating with terrorists and radicals." Not personally. But from diplomatic footsie with Iran, to diplomatic entrenchment with Mahmoud Abbas, the Bush administration is deeply compromised on this count. Sure, those particular radical terror supporters may wear suits; but there have been Bush administration negotitations with other, even more raw jihadists, dating back to 2005 in Iraq, which I wrote about here in a column called "Teatime for Terrorists." Out of that contact in Iraq, I suppose, emerged the dicey raprochment with our (we hope) former terrorist-enemies known as the much-ballyhooed "Awakening."
I'd like to awaken, too--from this whole nightmare.