Saturday, July 29, 2006

Leslie Gelb and the Culture of Repeated Mistakes

The op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal are routinely populated with analyses that pull no punches. Opinion pieces laced with barbs pillorying both parties for various failings. And a thoroughly clear-eyed view of national security.

So it comes as a bit of a surprise to see Leslie Gelb receive a forum in these pages. Gelb is a former president of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), a self-described foreign policy think thank populated with the likes of Madeline Albright and Robert Rubin. Gelb also served as assistant secretary of state for the Carter administration.

Given that history -- a deep association with appeasers and failed negotiators -- one would think Gelb would have been mortified to submit the likes of his WSJ piece, "Time to Talk." Some of the lowlights:

Mr. Bush needs to use the present crisis to justify new and wide-ranging talks with Syria and Iran, and, if necessary, indirectly with Hamas and Hezbollah...

...negotiations are the most effective way to exercise American power, by arraying and making concrete the good things we could offer as well as deny them...

...Tehran supplies the money and rockets to Hezbollah, and will keep on doing so unless Washington gives them incentives to stop... ...Such an effort could also restore Mr. Bush's power and prestige for the tough decisions he will face in his last two White House years.

So Gelb's brilliant plan: appease despots and terrorists by sending... wait for it, wait... for... it... diplomats! And negotiating! Absolute genius.

No mention, though, of fellow CFR board-member Madeline Albright's disastrous negotiations with Kim Jong-Il, the result of which was a nuclear-equipped tyrant in North Korea. According to PBS, "...the CIA, working with evidence that it had been collecting since the middle of Clinton's second term, [found] that North Korea [was] secretly pursuing a uranium enrichment program". In other words, Gelb's colleagues -- Jimmy Carter and Albright -- engaged in just such a strategy of appeasement with an unspeakably evil despot.

In 2004, Amnesty International described the humanitarian impact of North Korea's regime in stark terms:

For more than a decade, the people of North Korea... have suffered from famine and acute food shortages. Hundreds of thousands of people have died and many millions more have suffered from chronic malnutrition. The actions of the North Korean government exacerbated the effects of the famine and the subsequent food crisis, denying the existence of the problem for many years, and imposing ever-tighter controls on the population to hide the true extent of the disaster...

The direct result of appeasing pure, unmitigated evil: a humanitarian disaster of unbelievable proportions and  a nuclear-equipped dictator.

Of course, Gelb fails to mention this intriguing slice of history, which can be laid directly at the feet of his CFR associates.

Further, Gelb has the gall to omit the central thesis behind Iran and Hezbollah: their stated goal of the destruction of Israel and the United States. Hezbollah's leader Sheikh Nasrallah has never been shy in espousing his desire to see the utter destruction of Israel :

"...There is no solution to the conflict in this region except with the disappearance of Israel... Peace settlements will not change reality, which is that Israel is the enemy and that it will never be a neighbor or a nation..."

Gelb has yet to explain how one can negotiate a deal with another who simply wants you dead.

He also ignores Iran's venomous and existential threats against the United States, England and Israel:

We have a strategy drawn up for the destruction of Anglo-Saxon civilization...

We are in the process of an historical war between the World of Arrogance [the West] and the Islamic world, and this war has been going on for hundreds of years... Is it possible for us to witness a world without America and Zionism? had best know that this... goal [is] attainable...

...We have established a department that will take care of England. England's demise is on our agenda...

Never mind that Gelb fails to mention the last significant effort at diplomacy in the Middle East. The Israelis withdrew from southern Lebanon to create peace. They withdrew from Gaza to create peace. But instead of building schools, businesses, and the other infrastructure that would benefit their populations, Gelb's prospective negotiating parties turned those areas into rocket bases.

Put simply, Gelb's impotent essay blithely ignores the central issue: negotiating with the irrational (or borderline insane) leads to even more death and destruction. Just as ignoring a festering wound leads to severe infection or death, so too are the inevitable results of appeasing evil. But the scourges of Communism and Nazism -- and recent experiences with North Korea -- apparently haven't penetrated Gelb's feeble cranium as representative outcomes.

Mark Steyn said it well in the Sun-Times last week:

...when bombs went off in Bali killing hundreds of tourists plus local waiters and barmen, ...a former Aussie diplomat... had no doubt where to put the blame... he told Australia's Nine Network: "The root cause of this issue has been America's backing of Israel on Palestine."

Suppose this were true -- that terrorists blew up Oz honeymooners and Scandinavian stoners in Balinese nightclubs because of "the Palestinian question." Doesn't this suggest that these people are, at a certain level, nuts? After all, there are plenty of IRA sympathizers around the world (try making the Ulster Unionist case in a Boston bar) and yet they never thought to protest British rule in Northern Ireland by blowing up, say, German tourists in Thailand...

Gelb's advocacy for negotiating with suicidal fanatics is as sensible as erecting a radio tower during a summer lightning storm. Odds are you'll receive a shocking lesson.

Based on Gelb's history and his most recent chicken-scratching, I'd say his efforts to advance American foreign relations are roughly equivalent to Gary Coleman's contributions to the cinema. He'd be better off finding a new line of work.

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