Monday, February 10, 2003
Deja vuI happened to be reading this excellent Atlantic Monthly piece by Samantha Power on the Rwandan genocide which was published a couple of years ago. It's a horrible story, hard to even read, and it raises questions for which the answers are extremely difficult. Well, that's not quite right. The answers are very easy; they're just very discomforting. The questions about when and where the United States should intervene around the world, about how and when the United Nations should take action.
But the part that struck me was this analysis of the dynamics of diplomacy:
Second, before and during the massacres U.S. diplomacy revealed its natural bias toward states and toward negotiations. Because most official contact occurs between representatives of states, U.S. officials were predisposed to trust the assurances of Rwandan officials, several of whom were plotting genocide behind the scenes. Those in the U.S. government who knew Rwanda best viewed the escalating violence with a diplomatic prejudice that left them both institutionally oriented toward the Rwandan government and reluctant to do anything to disrupt the peace process. An examination of the cable traffic from the U.S. embassy in Kigali to Washington between the signing of the Arusha agreement and the downing of the presidential plane reveals that setbacks were perceived as "dangers to the peace process" more than as "dangers to Rwandans." American criticisms were deliberately and steadfastly leveled at "both sides," though Hutu government and militia forces were usually responsible.Sound familiar? Substitute the words "Oslo" or "inspections" in there, and she could be discussing Israel or Iraq. It's the diplomatic process, not the actual people, that become the focus of everyone's efforts. The overriding principle -- no, the only one -- is to avoid war. Or, rather, and more cynically, to avoid a formal state of war. (It doesn't matter whether there's fighting going on, whether people are being killed. All that matters is whether people admit there's a war, because that would be a failure on the part of the diplomats.)
In Israel, nobody cares whether Palestinians get a state, whether terrorism stops, whether Israeli "settlements" actually disappear; nobody cares whether the "peace process" is leading to peace at all. All that they care about is whether they can claim that there is a "peace process." (I've ranted against the use of the term "peace process" many times; there's no such thing. Peace is a state, not a process. If we're in the middle of a "peace process," then we're at war.) In Iraq, the primary purpose of the inspections isn't to find anything; it's to keep inspections going. To the extent we're being generous to the anti-war crowd and the French and Germans, this explains their position on military action. The reason they're proposing a solution that doesn't solve the problem -- inspections -- is because they're not trying to solve the problem; they're trying to preserve the process.
And generally, there's nothing wrong with that. Given that we have neither the resources nor the will to fight everywhere at once, we have to do everything we can to avoid war. But you have to be willing to admit when your efforts have failed. And then, you need to make a decision: to admit that you have nothing constructive to offer, or to be willing to use force. The problem with the French approach is that they won't do either. They pretend they still have a chance to succeed, thereby obstructing those who have moved past that delusion. And that just isn't acceptable.
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