Back in the good old days of the Cold War, when the world teetered on the brink of nuclear armageddon, one of the biggest disagreements between the Left and the Right in this country was how to reconcile the black-and-white contrasts of the West and the Soviet Bloc with the grays of nations that were not part of either. The left argued that such nations should be judged strictly on their own merits, other considerations set aside. The right said that we must never lose sight of the big picture, and we should be willing to overlook or tolerate a certain level of human rights abuses and oppression in the name of checking the far greater evil of communism.
It was never adequately resolved, and to be blunt I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all solution. In some cases, principle should have reigned; in others, pragmatism was the right move. It’s a virtually impossible call, and it can take years or decades to see which was the right solution.
Iran springs to mind. For years, we backed the Shah under the “he’s a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch” theory. Then, when his health started failing and he turned to us for help, the pendulum had swung the other way and the tactics he had used to suppress dissenters were used against him — and he fell from power.
The dissenters swept in, and promptly instituted an Islamist state that has spent nearly three decades inflicting death, carnage, chaos, and terror on the rest of the world.
That led us to backing Iran’s main rival in the region, Iraq, and we bolstered Saddam Hussein in the hopes that his secular thuggism would check Iran’s religious thuggism and keep them from bringing more of the Middle East a theocratic tyranny.
At that time, it seemed the right thing to do. I agree with it, as Saddam — as bad as he was — managed to keep Iran from expanding. Right up until he himself decided on a little expansionism towards Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, at which point he lost his protective value and became a threat in and of himself.
I bring this up now because I think I might be seeing the beginnings of another “he’s our son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch” situation — and I think we need to strongly consider if we really want to go there again.
In the Palestinian Territories, two terrorist groups (who double as political parties) are fighting for control. Hamas holds power in the Gaza Strip, while Fatah still holds sway on the West Bank. Many of the people (ironically enough, the political heirs of the Cold War-era idealists) are calling for the US to back Fatah strongly against Hamas, on the theory that as bad as Fatah is, they are not as bad as Hamas — we can at least deal with the kleptocratic thugs, whereas Hamas is a hardline militant Islamist group that has no interest whatsoever in talking.
On the other hand, there’s the notion that “even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.” A moderate terrorist is a bit of an oxymoron, and Fatah only looks good when compared with Hamas.
I hate peas. I think they’re gross and disgusting, and haven’t eaten them in decades. But if I was given a choice between a plate of peas and a plate of broken glass and was ordered to eat one of them, I’d dive right into the peas and finish them off without a moment’s hesitation.
I think that any rush to embrace Fatah — even as a check against Hamas — would be a mistake. As malignant as Hamas is, I think that to back their rivals unreservedly could lead to much, much worse consequences down the road.
My solution is no solution. At least, not yet.
First up, Hamas needs to be isolated. Israel and Egypt are already taking steps towards sealing off the Gaza Strip, to keep the violence bottled up. But we should not be eager to back Fatah. For one, their own survival is still in doubt. For another, their own history — as part of the Palestinian Liberation Organization — is one marked with drug dealing, terrorism, and death.
I think this is an excellent opportunity to step back and let events unfold on their own for a bit. Let Hamas stew in their own fetid juices in Gaza for a while, and let the West Bank shake itself out for a bit. Right now the terrorists are, for the most part, killing other terrorists, and I don’t see any great moral imperative to interrupt them.
When they get bored with that, then — and only then — should we look into re-establishing relations and getting involved with their internecine squabbles.