14 January 2009

Hillary Clinton and "stupid power"

At her Senate confirmation hearing, Hillary Clinton claimed she wants to shift American foreign policy toward the use of "smart power," something she defines as "principles and pragmatism, not rigid ideology,"and then -- clearly cleaving to rigid ideology -- said she won't talk to Hamas. Hamas is of course a major player on the Palestinian side and one of the few organizations in the Middle East that legitimately represents Arab people through the democratic process. To refuse to talk to them is to persist in folly and bodes ill for peace in the Middle East. In Clinton's own words: "We cannot negotiate with Hamas until it renounces violence, recognizes Israel and agrees to abide by past agreements. That is just, for me, an absolute."

Normally with negotiations you bring what you want to the table, the other side brings what it wants, and you talk. Clinton is demanding Hamas submit on major points before they are even allowed to approach the table. This is less a call to negotiate than it is an imperial command. One wonders if she will allow them to submit standing up or whether she will insist they do so on their knees.

An underlying reality is that the Arab people oppose the state of Israel. This is exemplified by at least two powerful pieces of evidence. A recent poll on American popularity in the world showed that it is by far the lowest in the Middle East. It hasn't sunk under Bush, just remained very low. At the same time, the popularity of pro-Palestinian movements soars. The popularity of Hezbollah went through the roof during Israel's invasion of Lebanon and the popularity of Hamas among the Arab masses is increasing now. Are the Americans really too obtuse to get the message?

We might not like this reality but reality does not conform to our likes and dislikes. It just is. If the the West. particularly the United States, wants to contribute to peace in Palestine, it must accept the views of the Arab street, and this means sitting down with groups like Hamas who genuinely represent them. It isn't impossible to talk to people you don't like or agree with. We despised the Soviet Union and they threatened to bury us, yet we managed to negotiate agreements covering every thing from trade to armaments to culture.

The West's failure to deal with the realities of the Middle East over the past 60 years aggravated by its constant meddling has left the region worse off. The largest and most long-suffering group of refugees in the world, the Palestinians ethnically cleansed from their homes, has suffered three generations of exile and incarceration. The toxicity of all this has spread beyond the Middle East, arriving in New York in 2001. Now Hillary Clinton offers nothing but more of the same. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

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