Obama's Envoys to Nowhere (By Anatol Lieven, New America Foundation/The National Interest Online)

De kans om te slagen is minimaal voor Obama’s ‘special envoys’ voor het Midden-Oosten en Afghanistan, schrijft Anatol Lieven – met grote spijt.

I hope with all my heart that most of what I am going to write in this article will prove mistaken. President Obama’s appointment of George Mitchell as special envoy for the Middle East peace process, and of Richard Holbrooke as special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan (and de facto American broker for the Kashmir issue), are both in themselves very positive moves. The Bush administration’s neglect of these two conflicts was among its more disgraceful foreign-policy omissions. The appointment of such senior, respected and impressive figures to these roles are a welcome sign of how seriously the new president and his team take these issues…

The problem is that in both cases the objective circumstances are highly unfavorable to peace–and in the case of the Israel-Palestine conflict, these circumstances include the positions taken by the great bulk of the U.S. establishment, Democrat as well as Republican. This renders Mr. Mitchell’s task vastly more complicated than the one he faced in Northern Ireland. To put it bluntly, the United States has never been an honest broker in the case of Israel and the Palestine. My own experience of eight years at three different think tanks in Washington, DC makes me highly pessimistic that it can ever be, at least without a revolution in the political affairs of either Israel or the United States itself…

I see no signs, however, of a willingness in the Democratic establishment to confront Israel on this issue–least of all on the part of a secretary of state who will, I fear, be engaged in a permanent, unstated, low-level campaign to inherit the presidency when Obama leaves, and who will therefore be extremely unwilling to confront any major domestic U.S. lobby. Without such willingness, Mitchell’s diplomacy will lack the necessary element of strength and will probably fail as so many before him.

In the case of south Asia, the same is true, though here the United States is not nearly as culpable…

Since in dealing with India only quiet diplomacy is possible, and since the only possible terms of a Kashmir deal are roughly those of the Northern Ireland peace settlement–recognition of existing borders plus the creation of cross-border institutions, enhanced autonomy, etc.–it might have made more sense to put Mr. Mitchell in charge of Kashmir, and Mr. Holbrooke in charge of Israel and Palestine. But then again, the chances that Mr. Holbrooke or any other U.S. envoy will ever really thump the table when facing Israel still seem very low. As I said at the beginning of this piece, I very much hope to be proved wrong over this–but I don’t expect to be.

Envoys to Nowhere (By Anatol Lieven, New America Foundation/The National Interest Online)

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