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Ralph Peters is a regular columnist with the New York Post. Register here for access to the Post's Online Edition.



  Talk Is Cheap
by Ralph Peters [author, novelist] 1/18/07

Washington's elite may disdain religious believers, but its own bizarre dogma is far more irrational than faith in God: The D.C. establishment worships the imaginary power of negotiations to make peace in the Middle East.

In the tradition of intolerant believers everywhere, our governing elite rejects all evidence that its faith in diplomacy might be misplaced. Now the pagan priests on the Potomac are chanting, Only negotiations can fix Iraq.

It's possible that nothing is going to fix Iraq, but "Why can't we all just get along" parleys have about as much chance of bringing the factions together and ending Iranian and Syrian mischief as a rabbi has of being elected king of Saudi Arabia.
Ralph Peters - Contributor
Ralph Peters is a retired Army officer and the author of 19 books, as well as of hundreds of essays and articles, written both under his own name and as Owen Parry. He is a frequent columnist for the New York Post and other publications. [go to Peters Index]

There is no hope of pacifying Iraq through negotiations. None. Zero. The country has no tradition of inter-communal compromise - and the fighting factions and foreign governments involved have no incentive to compromise, so there is no way short of the massive use of force to bully them into compromising. Even if we got them all to agree to a patched-together accord, each faction would only honor it as long it seemed to be to its advantage.

But they're not going to agree, anyway, until a great deal more blood has been shed. The window for peace has closed.

Shia Arabs are convinced that they're destined to be the winners who take all. Iraq's Sunni Arabs believe they can regain power through violence. The Kurds won't give up what they've gained, and they'd like a bit more, thanks.

Iran believes the United States is ready to quit, leaving Tehran the new hegemon in Iraq and the Persian Gulf. Oh, and the religious fanatics in power will soon have nukes.

The lesson Syria drew from Iraq is that America has forgotten what it takes to win wars and falters when the going gets tough. Even the Israelis have lost their guts. With Hezbollah up and Lebanon sinking, Damascus thinks it just has to keep on making mischief.

The only party interested in a compromise settlement in Iraq happens to be us.

Where have negotiations led to lasting peace in the Middle East? Even the surly accord between Israel and Egypt only came about because both sides were worn out - and the Sinai still requires armed peacekeepers, more than three decades later.

The important point about that one reasonably successful Mideast settlement is that the players on both sides understood that they'd reached the end of the game. That's when Washington-brokered talks can help - when those involved all want an agreement, but need a fig leaf they can wear domestically ("The Americans made me do it . . . ").

Otherwise, the fate of negotiations in the Middle East has been consistent failure. Can anyone honestly claim that the region's better off today because of our diplomacy?

Lately, pundits have cited Churchill's line that "to jaw-jaw is better than to war-war." But Winnie was no Neville Chamberlain: He understood that only a position of strength makes jaw-jaw a viable option. And he certainly understood that wars had to be won.

Negotiation only comes into its own when the fighting's essentially over. And this war's barely begun.

So why, despite overwhelming empirical evidence that talks won't solve Iraq's problems, do politicians, diplomats, profs and pundits unite to insist that "negotiations are the only answer"?

It's not because they're visionaries smarter than the rest of us. The Washington establishment is composed almost exclusively of people who've built successful careers on words, not deeds - on negotiations, not action.

We're all prisoners of our experience to some degree. Stir in the massive egos crowding out common sense in D.C., and personal histories come with titanium bars.

Diplomats, of course, negotiate for a living - but so do lawyers. (Most legal affairs end in compromise settlements, not courtroom fireworks.) And our elected politicians are, overwhelmingly, lawyers. Academics also talk for a living (primarily to each other), while pundits live off words, criticizing the deeds of others. Even political appointees tend to have law or business backgrounds - career paths where successful negotiations lead to wealth and prestige.

And none of these various players believe they need guidance from the janitorial staff or the blue-collar workers down on the production line.

That means they don't want military advice. With no meaningful experience of the world's physical savagery, the Washington elite can't conceive of a problem that can't be solved the way its members always solved problems in law offices, legislatures, corporate offices and plum embassy jobs: by talking. Those pesky generals just complicate things.

Of course, all of those legislators with law degrees, business execs filling Cabinet posts, career diplomats, think-tank academics and journalists who kid themselves that they're D.C. insiders all have one other thing in common: They were much too important to serve our country in uniform.

So we're left with the cult of jaw-jaw - which just leads to more (and worse) war-war. For all of the advanced degrees in town, Washington doesn't really think, but accepts the doctrine laid down by the commissars. And the bipartisan party line runs that there's no problem diplomacy can't solve.

Talks won't fix Iraq - indeed, attempts to placate our enemies will certainly make things worse. That doesn't mean that military force will solve Baghdad's problems, either. But unrestricted force has a better chance than a special ambassador's blather.

Talkers dominate Washington, but the world is changed by doers. At present, the doers are on the side of our enemies. Negotiations have no power to fix Iraq or the greater Middle East. The series of debacles ahead, from Beirut to Baghdad and from Tel Aviv to Tehran, is going to prove just that. Again. CRO

Ralph Peters' latest book is Never Quit The Fight.

This piece first appeared in the New York Post
copyright 2007 - NY Post

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