Long and Winding Road Toward Peace
The Importance of Realism
don't necessarily consider John Hume, the prominent Northern Ireland
politician who was co-recipient (with "moderate" Ulster
Unionist leader David Trimble) of the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize, a
source of wisdom on ultimate principles. But he has experience with
conflicts in his part of the world that might be useful in other
parts of the world.
was in Southern California this week to deliver the Lee A. DuBridge
Distinguished Lecture at Cal Tech's Beckman Auditorium. In an interview
Monday on Pasadena-based NPR station KPPC he offered some observations
on Northern Ireland that just might hold important lessons. The
implications for Afghanistan – drawn by me rather than by Mr. Hume
– are hardly optimistic in the short run. But it is important to
the wake of the unexpectedly swift apparent collapse of the Taliban
regime in Afghanistan hopes are running high in certain American
circles that even more aggressive application of American military
forces will soon accomplish virtual miracles in the struggle against
terrorism. Former Navy Secretary John Lehmann was on one of the
Fox News shows Monday night absolutely brimming with war fever and
that the Taliban is yesterday's problem and we're likely to have
Osama's head in a sack by Christmas, he said, it's time to go after
Saddam. Iraq will fall like a domino, with all the people eager
to oust the evil Saddam once they know they'll have serious American
help. Then Iran will fall into line, becoming our friend and ally
with maybe no shots being fired. And all the other terrorist groups
and sponsors, inasmuch as they only respect and worship power and
the willingness to blow things to smithereens, will be only too
eager to become American allies and lackeys.
a new day of justice and fellowship will dawn.
paraphrase, but I exaggerate the sense of optimism, of the possibility
of improving the world through massive application of American military
power, only slightly.
DOSE OF REALISM
Hume, founder of the Social Democratic Labor Party, generally perceived
as a moderate influence on the Roman Catholic side of the religious/political
divide in Northern Ireland, might offer a bit of perspective in
the face of such wildly optimistic expectations. He was generally
optimistic about what he called "normal politics" – which
he views as more-or-less ideological or interest-driven positions
on concrete policy proposals – becoming more significant than the
old religious/ethnic absolutism that has been the norm for decades.
he warned that there would be problems and "hiccups" along
the way, as has been the case in recent months over the Irish Republican
Army "decommissioning" its weapons. The process has taken
a long time to get to the point where he can be modestly optimistic
and there's still a long way to go. He spoke of a "healing
process" that could take a generation or more.
agreed, for example, with Kevin Cullen, former Belfast and London
bureau chief for the Boston Globe, who was also on the Cal
Tech program, that peace essentially came to Northern Ireland as
long ago as 1994, when the Catholic and Protestant paramilitaries
agreed to a ceasefire.
PASSES AND PASSES
Good Friday Accords of 1998 – four years after an effective ceasefire
– created the framework for election and power-sharing. But it would
have been impossible if the 1994 ceasefire had not held (with the
exception of a few isolated outbreaks of violence).
like Mr. Hume believe Northern Ireland is now well on the way toward
a politics defined by negotiation and power-sharing rather than
by violence. But even optimists believe there will be substantial
problems along the way.
it has been seven years from the establishment of a reasonably effective
peace to reasonably promising and effective moves toward normal
governance. This is in a country with a tradition of parliamentary
governance and a culture of quasi-democratic politics going back
centuries, aided by constant help (and prodding, scolding and lecturing)
from the Irish, English and American governments.
PLACES, OTHER CULTURES
could draw lessons about how long it is likely to take to establish
non-absolutist governance in Bosnia or Kosovo. Or Afghanistan. In
Afghanistan, despite the recent apparent dramatic military successes
of the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance, it is likely to be a long
while before an effective ceasefire is in place.
some efforts are currently under way by officials from the United
States, other countries and the United Nations to begin the establishment
of a "power-sharing" government, those efforts are unlikely
to amount to much until a ceasefire is in place and Afghans have
at least a reasonable hope of living without constant violence for
a substantial period of time.
took seven years in Northern Ireland to put the country on the brink
of normalcy, and it could take another generation for economic development
to allow peace and civility to be viewed as normal. How long will
it take in Afghanistan to reach a similar position?
is at least as possible that Afghanistan will break up as a country
as that it will develop into peaceful, democratic, multiethnic state
of the kind Tony Blair seems to think can be created with enough
money and Western social worker/bureaucrats. The current war may
well ensure that Afghanistan or whatever entity claims to rule in
that intransigent part of the world will not be a safe haven for
terrorists like Osama bin Laden. But it is unlikely that a Western
European-style nation-state with all the positive and negative trimmings
is in the offing.
MIDDLE EAST MEDDLING
he himself might not concur, the implicit message from Mr. Hume
about the difficulty of building peace in strife-torn regions applies
to the Middle East as well. Unfortunately, the United States never
seems to learn this lesson.
of State Colin Powell has announced a renewed push by the United
States to jump-start a ceasefire and peace negotiations between
Israel and the Palestinians. While the impulse behind this new effort
– which includes sending retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni and Assistant
Secretary of State William Burns to the region for several days
of intensive talks on security and diplomatic issues – might be
benevolent, it is difficult to understand what U.S. officials think
can be accomplished now that was impossible to accomplish earlier.
is probably too much to hope that the envoys and the US government
will be cold-bloodedly realistic in their assessments and defer
major US commitments until both sides are so firmly committed to
real progress toward peace that they would get there with or without
US help. It is more likely that the two sides, smelling large infusions
of US taxpayer money in the offing, will pretend to cooperate and
to respect the US effort.
is quite possible that there is semi-rational hope behind the impulse
to get more involved. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11
commentators of all stripes have noted that unsettled and mutually
violent relations between Israel and the Palestinians have been
used by terrorists as an excuse for hating the United States, and
are a constant source of friction in the Muslim world. A certain
hope exists – pretty much around the world – that if the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict could be settled, or at least toned down, the threat of
terrorism might recede.
addition, the terrorist attacks have caused some serious rethinking
in a few parts of the world riven by ethnic and/or religious conflict.
Russia under Vladimir Putin seems to have moved toward closer relations
with the West and with the United States in particular (though a
wise policy would look at permanent interests rather than Bush-Putin
bonding over horseshoes). In Northern Ireland, as noted, the Irish
Republican Army began turning over weapons earlier than most observers
had suspected they would, giving new life to a stalled peace process.
stark contrast between the ferocity of terrorism and the hopes possible
under relatively civilized regimes seems to have stirred antagonists
around the world to consider the benefits of peaceful resolution
SURCEASE IN THE MIDEAST
the impulse to seek mediation does not seem to have affected the
antagonists in the Middle East. Suicide attacks (viewed as terrorism
by many) from Palestinian militants, countered by Israeli military
incursions into Palestinian territory (viewed as terrorism by others)
have continued since 9/11.
seems likely, as Ted Carpenter, head of defense and foreign policy
studies at the libertarian Cato Institute told me, that "We
[the United States establishment] seem to care more about a peaceful
settlement than the Israelis and the Palestinians do. That's a weak
position even for an honest broker to be in. And because of our
past support of Israel the United States is widely viewed as something
other than an honest broker."
is also difficult for the United States to develop a coherent policy
position on the Middle East, in part because of domestic political
constraints. Secretary Powell and President Bush have gone further
than previous US top leaders in stating that a formal Palestinian
state is part of the ultimate "vision." But for every
commentator like Robert Novak and Jude Wanniski who want to "give
Israel a push" toward reasonableness, there are others (including
89 US Senators who signed a letter urging President Bush not to
meet with Yasser Arafat) who urge unstinting support of Israel and
a hard line toward the Palestinian Authority. It is difficult to
see a real consensus in this country beyond hopeful platitudes.
the Bush administration came to power it seemed to realize that
with the Cold War over the Israeli-Palestinian dispute was less
geostrategic – and that intensive involvement by the United States
had not only done little to make things better but might have made
can understand a hope that renewed concern about terrorism has opened
a window of opportunity. As they hope for the best, however, US
diplomats should remember that until the two parties are genuinely
war-weary enough to come to the table US poking, prodding and bribing
is likely to bring only a temporary facade of peace. Investing a
great deal of US time, attention and money to produce a facade is
not a good use of resources.
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