Djerejian’s New Foreign Policy

Greg Djerejian has a new missive up on his thoughts on what new foreign policies ought to be in the new Administration.

I’ve publicly admired and criticized Djerejian in the past, notably in a post called ‘Greg Djerejian and My Heard Heart.’My core objection to his then-comments on Iraq still resonate in reading his new policy suggestions. I wrote:

What’s missing from this, of course, is any sense of context at all for that narrative, any sense that – for example – there was an expansionist and brutal Soviet Union who would have gladly conquered all of Europe – and kept it conquered had we not opposed them. Or that there was a brutal China led my the mad, bad, and dangerous Mao Tse Tung who would have gladly enslaved all of Asia had we not opposed them. I’m more than a little puzzled by Greg’s failure to point out that gaping hole in Cohen’s logic.

So in that view, why is there war? Because America fights, of course.

There’s this weird notion I see in many smart commentators that somehow what we do is the central driver of what happens. It’s important, I think, to keep in mind that – as the military says – “the enemy gets a vote.”

Reading him last week, I was struck by the notion that somehow Djerejian writes his way around this point.

…I am also suggesting that we re-order our national priorities so that, to be sure, combating extremism (in whatever manifestations) remains front and center, but that the sine qua non of U.S. foreign policy not be carried forward or advertised as part and parcel of the ‘global war on terror’. There are too many other threats to confront, and it is overly convenient to rebrand al-Qaeda’s brand of terrorism as the new ‘ism to replace communism and fascism as decades long center-piece of this country’s entire national security apparatus, which to my mind would prove too much of a distraction from the many other pressing challenges which confront us as well.

I think a step back to see what the past eight years have changed in the landscape, and a decision to look coolly (something we’re all hoping Obama is truly as good as advertised) things over and make decisions about what we’re seeing is a great idea. But the notion that Al Quieda is only as powerful as we make them is kind of silly. It’s one thing to talk of a forceful public diplomacy that minimizes them and tries to find different levels of engagement; it’s quite another to believe that we can simply decide that AQ simply doesn’t matter.

…once the immediate, and inevitable, crisis management clean-up of the recent wreckage in Gaza is accomplished (first we need to help, if through proxies, mediate schisms as between Hamas and the PA, as well as more directly liaise with differing Israeli factions set to squabble mightily during the impending political silly-season there, where we may well end up dealing with the re-emergence of Prime Minister Netanyahu after the elections), thereafter the Taba precedent should be speedily used as launching pad, of sorts, with additionally other bold strokes considered, like asking the Israelis to free Marwan Barghouti, so as to help restore Fatah as credible counter-party to Hamas, and thereafter lead the negotiations on behalf of Palestine with the Israelis. Only a leader with charisma can close a deal of such magnitude and controversy, and Abu Mazen doesn’t have what it takes, particularly after Israel’s latest operation, given these grim (if woefully predictable) tidings.

There’s a certain hubris that I’m seeing in people who keep saying that if only, by gosh, we’d try harder at diplomacy, we’d be able to unwind two generations of poisonous politics and hatred. It’s even more amusing when contrasted against those who ridiculed the “Green Lantern” model when applied to the Iraq war.

Look if you believe that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people (raised as abused proxies for the Arab world) is a conflict over exact borders, water rights, trade, or jobs this makes perfect sense. But you know what? I don’t think that’s what the war is about at all. Because (among other things) if it was, it would have been settled by now. Go watch ‘Suicide Killers’ and come on back to us, Greg. What we have starts as a deep clash between cultures, and has metastized as we have allowed the Arab world (with US and UN funding) to raise two generations of Palestinian children who have been bred with hatred of Israel’s existence as their existential value. And as we’ve seen Israel harden itself to the plight of it’s neighbors in response.

You can’t wish that away, or talk it out of existence, or negotiate a document that will somehow settle it.

There are paths out of this that don’t involve massive killing; I think and deeply hope so. This isn’t one of them in any world that I understand.

Now we move to Iran, where tone matters:

Last, on Iran, we must not forget to employ a new tone in our conversations with the Iranians, something I’d advocated in the cyber-pages of this blog quite a while back here, quoting the Iranian Ambassador to the UN about his displeasure about the usage of ‘carrots and sticks’ verbiage to describe Washington’s approach to Iran.

As the Iranian Ambassador put it:

If you deal with the other side as less than a human society, then don’t expect to have multiple outcomes. What I’m saying is that in Western terminology, concepts are used that would infuriate the other sides. Even the terminologies used by the United States in the liberal realist tradition…such as “carrot and stick”…are not meant for humans, but rather for donkeys. In studies of Orientalism, the Eastern part of the world is dealt with as an object rather than as serious, real human societies with longer, older civilizations with concerns and needs that have to be dealt with.

Again, the political leadership of Iran calls Jews “pigs and monkeys” and the United States “Satan” demands temperance on our part, and Djerejian moves our insensitivity to a central place in his plans. It’s our actions, not theirs…somehow.

He suggests realpolitik with Russia:

There are critical issues where the Russians could be of significant assistance to us (notably nuclear proliferation issues, to include Iran, among many others) and nothing would be more effective to this end than signaling to the Russians that we are not simply hell-bent on extending some fictitious Pax Americana to the outskirts of Moscow and St. Petersburg via ‘encirclement’ on their southern underbelly (Georgia), and/or to their West (the missile defense issue in Eastern Europe) – which, like it or not, far too many in Moscow believe–rather than helping foster a high-level strategic dialogue with the Russians on these issues (having moved to put these particularly controversial issues on the table to signal our seriousness of intent about trying to forge a re-fashioned relationship).

Well, yes…but:

Stanislav Markelov acted for the family of 18-year-old Elza Kungayeva, whose murder in 2000 became a symbol of human rights abuses in war-ravaged Chechnya.

Markelov, 34, had led legal attempts to block the early release of Russian Colonel Yuri Budanov, who was convicted of her murder. Mostly Muslim Chechnya was rocked by protests last month when a court ruled Budanov should be released.

Prosecutors said Markelov’s body was found with several gunshot wounds on one of Moscow’s main streets. He had just given a briefing to reporters. “What happened to Markelov is just outrageous,” said Tanya Lokshina, deputy head of Human Rights Watch in Moscow. She called the murder as shocking as the 2006 killing of Anna Politkovskya, a journalist and outspoken Kremlin critic who reported on human rights abuses in Chechnya.

We do have to deal with Russia, to be sure. They’re here.

But, at the same time, the notion of a collegial relationship with people for whom this passes for policy seems like it needs a deeper dig than we have here.

Which pretty much sums up my view of the policies set out here…

3 thoughts on “Djerejian’s New Foreign Policy”

  1. It’s not even that two sides are unwilling to compromise in the case of Israel vs Palestine, it’s that there simply may be no viable compromise, meaning, a compromise which would generate two (or more) viable, survivable, state entities that are as independent as the modern world allows states to be.

    Gaza and the West Bank, as a joint entity, don’t really work because they don’t even share a connective land corridor. Further, both pieces have different geographical problems and therefore different geographic drives. They are not a viable state together, unless Israel gives huge chunks of land that would make it non-viable. Even separately, Gaza is a geographical joke of a city-state that would be utterly dependent on Israel economically, and the West Bank is so fractally bordered due to the Israeli settlements that it would be impossible to defend in a meaningful sense… and while I hold Israel responsible for that piece of historical loveliness, I just don’t see the Israeli state as being physically capable of dismantling those settlements without falling. Therefore, it won’t.

    There just doesn’t seem to be a solution there, even assuming significant goodwill on both sides. Despite this, the diplomatchiks are never going to give up, because to do so would refute an axiom of their political worldview: That compromise is always possible with sufficient goodwill.

    Now Iran, on the other hand, that’s different. Iran may currently have an exaggerated notion of its own importance, its own reach, and its own “right” to be the dominant player in the Gulf region, but I do believe that there are still deals that could be cut with Iran that would benefit both us and them, and that would leave their state essentially viable. It might not happen, but it seems at least feasible, especially with a new Administration.

  2. One can agree that other countries and peoples exist and behave independently of our actions. But I don’t think it follows (if you mean to imply that it follows) that our diplomacy can bring no change until other countries change themselves. There may also be opportunity costs to a cautious U.S. policy that have to weighed against the risks of any new diplomacy.

    If you want to engage Greg Djerejian, I think you could usefully make a statement of what diplomatic risks, if any, you believe the United States could run to bring change we could live with.

  3. David, I certainly don’t mean to devalue diplomacy. I believe passionately in its value; but I’m also realistic about its prospects.

    I’m happy to offer some counter-suggestions. Watch this space.


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