There have probably been more articles and interviews published in the last month advocating negotiations with Syria than Hezbollah has gunmen.
Yet each of these statements does about as much damage as a terrorist. They make the West less able to respond to the current crisis while inspiring the radicals to be more intransigent.
Talks may be good in principle, but in this context, they are harmful. The problem is not that Syrian President Bashar Assad or the leaders of Hezbollah and Iran are bad guys or fanatics. The problem, in fact, is the exact opposite — they are acting rationally in pursuit of their interests. To paraphrase Bashar's cinematic equivalent, he's Michael Corleone in "The Godfather:" It's not personal; it's politics.
There are five basic reasons why the belief that negotiations with the Fabulously Extremist Four (Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran) are going to solve anything is the opium of the opinion-makers.
· They have far-reaching goals. They want a Middle East without Israel, a world without America and a chador in every closet. These are not agrarian reformers; they are consistent totalitarians on a level with fascism and Communism.
· They think they are winning. Even defeats are interpreted as victories, with some help from large portions of the Western media and intelligentsia. Especially now, they believe that the tide of history is running in their direction. Why should they be willing to make deals with those thought soon to be their victims?
· They believe their enemies are weak and cowardly. Can you blame them? The calls for concessions, the demands for détente, the nattering for negotiations are all taken by them as signs of weakness. Compromise is not a concept, at least right now, in their vocabulary.
· All the assumptions made by the negotiate-now crowd (part of which is an appeasement-now crowd) are wrong.
The interests of Hezbollah, Hamas, Iran and Syria are in line with extremism and aggression, not moderation. These people are not deluded or merely aggrieved — they have a pretty good strategy going. Why shouldn't they sing, "The future belongs to me!"
If the appeasers win out, it will.
It is vital to understand that this strategy serves two purposes. One is to try to achieve their ends — defeating the West, destroying Israel, and taking over the Middle East.
But even if they know they will never succeed in these goals, they have a very good set of reasons for acting as they do: It either keeps them governing (Iran, Syria) or moves them closer to taking power (Hamas, Hezbollah).
They reap praise, money and glory. To cite one example: Syria has helped devastate Lebanon, has a bad economy, no freedom and a high level of oppression. Yet the regime is wildly popular at home and abroad. And it has intimidated most of the world. Similarly, there is lots of talk about Iran's nuclear drive, but who is going to stand up to Teheran, really? Their strategy has plenty of short-term benefits.
How can you give them things they want without helping them achieve their despicable aims? Syria turned down the whole Golan Heights in 2000 in exchange for peace. Hezbollah is not going to be satisfied with the release of one convicted Lebanese terrorist held in Israel after being convicted of murdering a father and his child in cold blood. Nor will they go away and settle down to productive lives if given the barren little piece of Israeli-held Syria they claim and the United Nations says isn't theirs.
Is what Hamas is really aching for is an independent Palestinian state living peacefully alongside Israel when they say they will fight decades to wipe out Israel, and deride Israel's total withdrawal from the Gaza Strip as the sign that the end is near for the Jewish state? Appetite, as was said of the totalitarians of the 1930s, grows with the feeding.
The idea that dangerous extremists can be bought off by sympathy and slices is understandable in terms of wishful thinking but suicidal as a strategy. Just read what they're saying and watch what they're doing.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center in Herzliya, Israel.