In the wake of the Paris attacks and the Turkish downing of a Russian bomber, John Kerry is going to the Middle East. . .to talk to the Israelis and Arabs about restarting the peace process. Aaron David Miller writes in the Wall Street Journal:
Having spent most of my professional life chasing after and believing in Arab-Israeli peace–particularly Israeli-Palestinian peace–I can understand the addictive power of the problem for U.S. presidents and secretaries of state. And this secretary of state, more than any of those for whom I worked, really believes not only in the importance of the issue but also in his own capacity to somehow solve it […]
But as Mr. Kerry makes yet another foray into the world of the never-ending peace process, here are some inconvenient and politically incorrect truths worth bearing in mind.
–First, if there is any key to stability in the angry, broken, dysfunctional Middle East, it certainly isn’t a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Yes, a resolution now would certainly boost U.S. credibility and take an important issue off the table. But given the region-wide melt down – Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen in varying forms of chaos and dysfunction; a rising Iran, and the threat from ISIS — it’s no longer credible to argue that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a priority or that it’s even possible now. A two-state solution may well be the least-worst outcome. But with all the other failing states in the region, it’s worth considering why the U.S. would want to risk a failed or weak Palestinian one.
Miller’s other two points focus on the peace process specifically, and as usual, he’s a must-read for those interested in the subject.
Consider for a second the other worthy ways the good Secretary could be spending his time. A NATO country has just fired shots at the Russians, who incidentally have troops actively destabilizing Europe through Ukraine and, in conjunction with the Iranians, are sowing chaos across the Middle East. Yemen has basically fallen apart, and our Sunni allies are scared to death we’ve abandoned them. Afghanistan’s weak government is imperiled by the Taliban, and Libya is an ungovernable hell-hole. The God wars are raging across Africa—particularly in oil-rich Nigeria—as communal tensions between Muslims and Christians continue to flare into violence. In Latin America, the ongoing collapse of Venezuela continues to cause under-appreciated problems for the Caribbean. Meanwhile, Brazil founders, and Argentina, having finally decided to elect a non-Peronist leader, could use some attention. And in the Far East, there’s the little matter of the rise of China, tensions in the South China Sea, and our still-incomplete pivot to Asia. In other words, there is almost anything a Secretary of State could be doing right now that would potentially be more productive than this trip.
But for John Kerry (and other Western diplomats just like him), going back to the Arab-Israeli negotiating table isn’t driven by external need. Not even he can think that resolving the border between Israel and the West Bank is the key to peace in the Middle East anymore. This is the Secretary going to his Happy Place—where there are Nobel Peace Prizes to be won, an age-old diplomatic puzzle to be resolved, and most of all, familiar problems to be confronted with familiar tools.
It’s all so very comfortable. But that’s not the world we live in anymore. Time for Secretary Kerry—and the rest—to wake up. And maybe tell the pilot to change course for Ankara.