Ever since the split between Fatah and Hamas and the Hamas coup in the Gaza Strip, I’ve been waiting for someone to come up with a way to blame two groups of Palestinian terrorists killing each other on George W. Bush — and, thanks to my colleague Larkin at Wizbang Blue, I have it. Shoulda known the Grauniad would come through for me.
I’m not going to go into the particulars of the Grauniad’s author’s fevre dream, but instead use it as a launching point for a bigger issue: when it is appropriate for the United States to have dealings with terrorist groups.
Almost from the birth of our nation, our policy towards bargaining with terrorists has been the same: “don’t.” (If you don’t understand the reference, go find a Marine and ask them why the Corps’ hymn refers to “the shores of Tripoli.”) That has been our policy ever since then — except when it hasn’t.
As I grow older, I find myself thinking more and more of my college writing professor and the things he taught me. And I find that what he taught about writing has far more applications than the simple crafting of words.
One of them was how he pounded us mercilessly for breaches of the rules of spelling, of grammar, and other fundamentals. When some ignorant dolt would cite some famous author who did similar things (e.e. cummings was a favorite), the teacher would jump on that and make his case:
“It is essential for you to know the rules, so you will know when — and how — to break them when you find you need to do so.”
Absolute rules and laws and guidelines are a fact of life. So, too, is that there will be times when those absolutes must be violated. And only those who know the absolutes cold will be certain to know when those times arise, and how best to violate them and still achieve the maximum effect.
Part of that effect is, to be blunt, shock value. Not shock merely for its own sake, but the startling of the reader with something they do not expect to find in that particular forum.
To use a personal example, I tend to not use profanity. Oh, I’ll dabble in the minor swears (damn, hell, crap, and the like), but for the most part I avoid the “R-rated” ones. That’s a personal choice, because I want to preserve the power of such words for when I really, really need them.
But back to my point: our policy on dealing with terrorists needs exceptions. What we need to do is make it abundantly clear just why we don’t deal with terrorists as a general rule, and under what circumstances we set that rule aside.
Two exceptions come to mind immediately for me:
1) When it is to the immediate benefit of the United States.
Two examples spring to mind here. The first was in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan, back in the 70’s and 80’s. The Afghan resistance was made up of many groups, some of them out-and-out terrorists. But we backed them and helped them. The reasoning was partly because they were fighting the Soviets, bleeding them white and keeping them occupied and out of mischief elsewhere. Also, it gave us a chance to see Soviet military hardware in operation, used by actual Soviets — sometimes against our own equipment. This was a valuable laboratory for us. Finally, the Soviets’ goal was an expansion south, towards the Middle East oil fields, the waterways that carry so much of the world’s oil, and warm-water ports — three things we had a serious national interest in keeping them away from.
The other is our relationship with Saddam Hussein during the same decades. Saddam was a brutal thug, but he was — at the time — a useful one. He flirted with the Soviet Union, buying their military hardware and accepting their “advisors” and the like, but never let them get the real foothold they craved. And after the fall of the Shah and the reign of the Mullahs in Iran, Saddam provided a check on their expansion of militant Islam. So he was, in the big picture, worth keeping around.
Right up until he decided to try his own expansionism, and became a threat in and of himself to the region. And he chose to remain a threat to the region right up until the day he found himself dancing at the end of a noose.
2) When it is to the direct benefit of innocent people.
This one is a lot grayer (and considering how gray the other one is, that’s saying a lot.) There are circumstances when it is not only advisable for a government to negotiate directly with a terrorist group, but absolutely necessary. The best example I can think of from recent history was the Israel-Hezbollah fighting of last year.
There were tens of thousands of Lebanese civilians in the battle zone, stuck there because their own government and military could not and would not protect them, as is their duty. But their plight simply could not be ignored, so international aid groups had to directly talk with Hezbollah (along with Israel) to find ways to protect them from harm as best they could. This didn’t work out too well, as a key element of Hezbollah’s defensive strategy was the use of human shields (often unwilling), but the theory was laudable.
The other element that can never be forgotten — but simply can’t be accounted for — is future developments. The judgment of history can be harsh on those who don’t have the benefit of 20/20 hindsight to shape their decsions. Our support of the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan has been linked by some to the 9/11 attacks. Our backing of Saddam against Iran, likewise, has been cited as a causal factor in the first Gulf War and, eventually the war there now.
So, back to the key point here. Hamas is a terrorist group. They won the election, and took control of the Palestinian Authority. Was that enough of a change to merit an exception to the “no dealings with terrorists” policy?
Let’s look at the possible reasons for an exception.
A) Hamas had made strides away from terrorism and towards becoming a more mainstream entity.
Utterly wrong. Hamas had added its political tactics and power to its existing arsenal of tactics. They not only offered no hints of softening their militant stance, but had explicitly reaffirmed them — as well as their goal of obliterating Israel and replacing it with an Islamist state.
B) Assisting Hamas would prove to be of benefit to the United States.
Again, utterly wrong. Hamas remained solidly against the United States, only wanting our money (to buy weapons) and our food (for their people, relieving them of that pesky burden). Their goals are diametrically opposed to ours, and their methods are repugnant.
C) Assisting Hamas will directly benefit innocent people.
Also utterly wrong. One of Hamas’ primary tactics is killing people — and innocence is no shield. They fire unguided rockets in the general direction of Israel, hoping that they will kill someone, anyone.
So, what is the argument behind supporting a Hamas-led government? Apparently, the only one that seems to come up is “they won the elections.”
Elections are, generally, good things. They are the enforcement mechanism behind the rule that says “people tend to get the government they deserve” in democracies.
But winning an election is not a blanket whitewash. William Jefferson
Clinton was re-elected, even after his alleged misdeeds were revealed. Richard Nixon was re-elected after the Watergate break-in and coverup. Ted Kennedy has been re-elected to the United States Senate seven times since Chappaquiddick, and he’s still a drunken swine who got away with killing a woman. And don’t make me bring up the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections.
On the other hand, there was Fatah. Formerly headed by the despicable Yassir Arafat (Nobel Peace Prize laureate and unreconstructed terrorist and thief), they are the corrupt, venial, kleptocrats who are Hamas’ chief rival. Backing them seemed to be the safe move, as it is easier to deal with thieves than Islamist fanatics. But simply being “not as bad as Hamas” is hardly a ringing endorsement.
I was never comfortable with the rush to embrace Fatah in the face of the threat from Hamas. Harry Truman once famously said that “if you give the people a choice between a Republican and a Republican, they’ll choose the Republican every time.” In this case, the choice was between terrorists and terrorists, and we saw Fatah as “the lesser evil.” Some, however, chose to look beyond the fact that a ‘lesser evil” is still evil.
So, as many others have noted, we might actually have a “two-state solution” to the Palestinian situation, with a Hamas-run quasi-state in Gaza and Fatah dominion on the West Bank. With which should we deal?
My recommendation is simple. We tell them both that when they want to talk peace, we’ll pick up the phone. Until that time, however, we simply let them fester in the fetid cesspool of their own makings. The Palestinian people have, with their votes, given a ringing endorsement to terrorists; we should feel no great moral compunction to shelter them from the logical (and forewarned) consequences of that choice.
And if they start getting hungry after international aid is cut off, let them go to the remains of the greenhouses that were left fully intact by the departing Israelis and dine on Qassam rockets and suicide belts, then wash them down with some AK-47s.