How to Make Deals with Devils

[Washington Post] Leslie H. Gelb - Washington sages are now debating whether to negotiate with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran or with Hamas; some are considering trying to reconcile with supposedly repentant Islamist insurgents in Iraq and Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. The U.S. almost always deals with devils at some point or another. There is no alternative if a president wants to test nonmilitary solutions to the nastiest of problems. The real issue is not whether to talk to the bad guys but how, under which conditions, with which mix of pressure and conciliation, and with what degree of expectation that the bad guys will keep their word. Does this mean that we should just talk to every devil, no matter how evil? No. There is a crucial difference between a bad man and a madman. If that line is crossed, there really isn't much sense in negotiating. Hitler's rhetoric, fanatical anti-Semitism and palpable aggression were beyond debate, and it was self-delusion to think he could ever be remotely reasonable. The same can be said of the words and deeds of Osama bin Laden - and probably those of Ahmadinejad and Khaled Meshal, the exiled leader of Hamas, as well. To deal with these detestable fanatics without any real prospects for a breakthrough serves only to legitimize and empower them. But their followers are not monolithic. It's almost always worth exploring the cracks and crevices for people who are disillusioned, tired or just plain ambitious. Even devils have interests other than threatening the U.S. The writer is president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations.

2008-04-25 01:00:00

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