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Aaron Miller: AMERICA'S ELUSIVE SEARCH FOR ARAB-ISRAELI PEACE

From: John Vincent
Date: Wed, May 7, 2008 at 10:52 AM
Subject: Aaron Miller: AMERICA'S ELUSIVE SEARCH FOR ARAB-ISRAELI PEACE



{Personal aside: In the late 1970s my wife Delia (then a newly minted historian) and Aaron Miller (experienced historian soon to become INR's top Middle East analyst) were once colleagues in the Historians Office of the Bureau of Public Affairs at State before she departed to join the World Bank staff.}
 
Foreign Policy Research Institute
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E-Notes
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AMERICA'S ELUSIVE SEARCH FOR ARAB-ISRAELI PEACE
by Aaron David Miller

May 6, 2008

Aaron David Miller is a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow
Wilson International  Center  for  Scholars  in  Washington,
D.C.; his  latest  book  is  The  Much  Too  Promised  Land:
America's Elusive  Search for Arab-Israeli Peace (Mar. 2008,
Bantam/Dell). Between  2003-06 Miller served as president of
Seeds of  Peace, a  nonprofit dedicated  to empowering young
leaders from  regions of conflict with the leadership skills
required to  advance coexistence and reconciliation. For the
previous two  decades, he  served at the Department of State
as an  adviser to  six Secretaries  of State.  This essay is
based on  the BookTalk he gave at FPRI on April 28, 2008, at
which copies  of his  book were sold by Joseph Fox Bookshop,
1724 Sansom  St., Philadelphia  (
www.foxbookshop.com), where
the book is also available.

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      AMERICA'S ELUSIVE SEARCH FOR ARAB-ISRAELI PEACE

                   by Aaron David Miller

My book The Much Too Promised Land had a very strange origin
in the  sense that  I really  never intended  to write it. I
"resigned" from  the State  Department in January 2003. Only
two secretaries of state in the history of the republic have
ever "resigned"  over matters of principle: William Jennings
Bryan because  he opposed  Woodrow Wilson's  policies in the
run-up to  World War  I  and  Cyrus  Vance  because  he  was
fundamentally against  President Carter's  abortive  hostage
rescue mission  in April  1980. One  doesn't resign from the
Department of  State easily.  I left because I had concluded
rightly--and nothing  has changed  my mind  in the past five
years--that the road to Arab-Israeli peace was going to be a
long and  bumpy one. It had come time for me to take a break
after 25  years of providing varying degrees of advice, some
good, some  bad, to a number of secretaries of state. I have
a new  trope which  is that  there ought  to be  term limits
imposed on  former advisors  to presidents  and secretaries,
particularly those  whose advice  perhaps  doesn't  lead  to
success.

I went  on to  run Seeds  of Peace, which brings young Arabs
and Israelis,  Indians and  Pakistanis together,  to try  to
forge understanding  and respect. As I watched over the past
five years,  I was  disturbed by  the fact  that America,  a
country I  care a  great deal  about, was  failing.  It  was
failing at  a time and in a part of the world that made that
failure extremely risky for our interests.

The primary  threat to  our national  security will not come
from an ascending China, however competitive and powerful it
may be,  or from an economically powerful and united Europe.
It's not  even going  to come  from a former USSR seeking to
regain its  past glory.  It's going  to come from an area of
the world  that is divided, dysfunctional, and angry, filled
with rage and conflicts that cannot be resolved.

September 11  was the  second bloodiest day in U.S. history,
surpassed only  by September  17, 1862  at Antietam. So what
happens in the part of the world from which the 9/11 attacks
emanated  is   critical  to   our  national  interests.  Our
interests   there   cannot   be   measured   in   terms   of
administrations. While  serving in  government, I divided my
life in  terms of  administrations. That's not the right way
to calibrate  time. That's not the way our friends calibrate
it, nor  our adversaries.  They calibrate  time in  terms of
generations. We need to start thinking that way, too.

Both of the Democratic presidential candidates are willfully
deluding either  themselves or  us if  they believe that the
road out of Iraq will be quick, easy, and fixed according to
a neat time period. America has to assume responsibility for
what it  does. We  invaded a country roughly the size of the
state of  California, with  28 million people. We ripped the
lid  off   it  and  dismantled  the  army  and  other  Baath
institutions of  governance.  What  makes  us  believe  that
somehow we can simply turn around and exit? Some would argue
that that's the morally and ethically right thing to do. But
the question is, when the Republican or Democratic successor
to the  current administration confronts the reality of this
investment trap  into which  this administration has put us,
from  which   we  cannot  extricate  ourselves  or  fix  the
situation, what  is he  or she  going to  do? Can  we really
leave Afghanistan and Iraq as failed states?

If Iraq  over time ends up being a stable democratic polity,
that would  be great. But that's not really the question, is
it? The question is, what has Iraq cost us? My friend Thomas
Friedman says,  you don't win the lottery if you don't buy a
ticket. Fair enough. But there are some tickets in life that
just aren't worth buying--they are too risky.

All of  this prompted me to think about the reasons for both
America's success and primarily its failures in this region.
For eight  years under  Bill Clinton,  we stumbled  at Arab-
Israeli peacemaking; for eight years under President Bush we
stumbled at  how to  make war,  at least in this part of the
world. What  is it  about America,  the  greatest  power  on
earth, that  accounts for  this situation? Why can't we seem
to get it right?

When I  say "get  it right," I don't mean "fix this region."
Most of  the problems  there are  not caused by America. And
this region is not going to be "fixed" by us. The history of
this region  is the  history of  great powers who over 1,000
years, over  the sweep  and arc  of history,  have tried  to
impose their will on small tribes. Good luck! This region is
littered with the schemes, dreams, ambitions of great powers
who believed  they could  have their  way and  impose  their
will. We  can't for  one simple reason: we don't live in the
neighborhood. However  powerful we think we are, these small
tribes, these  tiny powers, will always have a greater stake
in the outcome of their struggles than we ever will. Because
for us it is not an existential conflict.

In light  of all this, I came to two realizations. First, we
don't pay  attention to  the past.  A.J.P. Taylor, the great
British historian,  said that  the only lesson of history is
that there  are no  lessons.  But  do  you  want  to  ignore
history? If you ignore it completely, history will be a very
cruel and unforgiving teacher.

America occupied  Japan for  seven years,  from 1945-52. How
many Americans  were killed  by Japanese  in hostile actions
during that  seven-year period?  None. Japan  was a defeated
nation. Despite  all his  imperfections,  General  MacArthur
understood   the    importance   of    preserving   Japanese
institutions that  were very  controversial,  including  the
emperor himself.  What were  we thinking when we went to war
in Iraq  with insufficient  forces to  even have a chance of
subduing an  insurgency? And what did we expect would happen
in the  wake of  our own incapacity and the determination of
the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds to settle scores?

So that  was the first problem. As William Faulkner observed
in Requiem for a Nun, "The past is never dead. It's not even
past." That  is certainly  how Arabs and Israelis see it; we
need to see it that way, as well.

Second, we  don't read  the present  correctly. We don't see
the world the way it is. We want to see the world the way we
want it  to be.  Why? It's  related to where we are. We have
attained  a  degree  of  physical  security  and  detachment
unprecedented, unparalleled,  unrivaled  in  history  for  a
great power.  We have  non-predatory neighbors  to our north
and south,  and fish  to our  east and  west. No other great
power has  ever had  this kind  of physical  security. In my
opinion, it  explains why  we  behave  the  way  we  do.  It
explains our  boundless optimism.  Our political  system was
the first  in the  world to  be founded  on the  basis of an
idea--the  primacy   of  the   individual.  We   believe  in
individuals' capacity  to transform themselves and to change
the world around them, with all the imperfections, deficits,
and problems that America has.

I lived with this practical, we can fix anything, split-the-
difference worldview  for 20  years. The  eighth day  of the
Camp  David   summit   of   July   2000,   Jerusalem,   this
extraordinarily complicated city, was to become the focus. A
piece of it: what to do about the Haram al Sharif, 35 acres,
on which  sit two  mosques holy  to  Islam.  Below  are  the
remains of  the first  and second Jewish temples. Talk about
overlapping sacred  space, that's  what this is. Here we are
trying to  convince the  Israelis and Palestinians, who both
assert sovereignty,  that we'll  take sovereignty  from them
and we'll reposit it with God. That's a logical fix--they're
holy sites,  after all.  Or, when  they rejected  that idea,
"We'll give  you Palestinians  sovereignty above ground, and
you Israelis sovereignty below." They rejected that as well.
Jerusalem, history  teaches us, is not to be shared, it's to
be possessed. In the name of God, and the tribe. It need not
be so,  but Americans  need to understand the attachments of
each side to it.

Where we  are also  explains our naivete and our capacity to
believe that  the rest of the world is like us. Twelve years
ago, my  daughter and  I were  at a movie theater outside of
Washington, D.C.  watching  Sean  Connery  in  The  Rock.  I
noticed several  muscular men  in the  theater talking  into
their lapels,  a sure sign they were security and someone of
real importance  was there. Sure enough, eight rows in front
of us  were King  Hussein and  Queen Noor.  He had  on  blue
jeans, a blazer, and a polo shirt. We knew each other, so we
chatted. I  said later  to my  daughter, "Isn't  this great?
It's me  and you  and  the  King  of  Jordan  in  Washington
watching Sean  Connery in  The Rock." As if we were all part
of the  same family.  We were  not. When he was 12, this man
saw his  grandfather  Abdullah  murdered.  He  presided  for
forty-five years over one of the most fragile enterprises in
the Middle  East, the  Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, and made
it work.  Or Benjamin  Netanyahu,  whom  Madeleine  Albright
declared to  be the  Israeli Newt Gingrich. Netanyahu's high
school education  in Philadelphia  and his  American  mother
gave him  a superb  capacity in  the American  vernacular. I
remember  on   one  trip   being  summoned,  along  with  my
colleagues, to be yelled at by him. When I closed my eyes, I
heard my  college tennis  coach yelling at me. I didn't hear
Netanyahu, Prime  Minister of  Israel, graduate  of  one  of
Israel's elite  paratrooper brigades,  brother of  Jonathan,
who had been killed in the rescue mission at Entebbe; son of
a prominent  revisionist historian. I have nothing in common
with Benjamin  Netanyahu. We don't understand what it's like
to live on a knife's edge.

So I decided to try to apply these principles to the 20-plus
years I  participated in  Arab-Israeli diplomacy.  I did not
write this book only for the Beltway crowd and policy wonks.
I tried  to make  it accessible,  building on  anecdotes and
stories from  my experience.  Then I  set about interviewing
everyone I  could find  who had  participated in the earlier
diplomacy. I  interviewed all of our former presidents, even
Gerald  Ford  before  he  died,  with  one  exception:  Bill
Clinton. All  nine secretaries of state from Henry Kissinger
to Condoleezza  Rice, national  security advisors; there's a
chapter on  domestic politics  that seeks to answer the much
misunderstood  and  hijacked  question,  how  does  domestic
politics  in   America  really  influence  our  Arab-Israeli
policy?  For  that  I  went  out  and  interviewed  all  the
evangelicals--the late  Jerry Falwell,  Pat Robertson,  John
Hagee--a lot  of sitting senators, representatives, American
Jews and Arabs. I tell the story of why America succeeds and
why it  fails in Arab-Israeli diplomacy, bearing in mind one
basic fact.  I borrow a line from Michael Jackson, not known
as a  great philosopher.  But he  got it  right when he said
that if you want to make a change, start with the man in the
mirror.

I could  cite a  thousand reasons  why Yassir Arafat was the
primary obstacle,  followed closely  by Ehud  Barak, in  the
failure of  Camp David.  But ultimately Bill Clinton and the
rest of  his advisors  bear a  measure of responsibility. We
need not  self-flagellate in  some maudlin,  gratuitous way,
but we  do need to identify our role in the summit's failure
and learn from it.

A few  observations. First, as to objectivity, I argued with
my editor  for a week about how much personal information to
include. He said, if you want people to believe you, you had
better come clean. "Tell them who you are and where you came
from, how  your views changed." I concluded that there is no
objectivity. We  are all  sum totals of our experiences--our
political, religious,  and ethnic  DNA. You can't change who
you are, but you can look to see where your predispositions,
prejudices, and  biases lie  and set them aside in an effort
to try to understand the needs, narratives, and requirements
of both  sides to a conflict. I'm from a wealthy Jewish real
estate family  in Cleveland, Ohio. My grandparents were on a
first-name basis  with David  Ben-Gurion and  Golda Meir. My
parents were very close to Yitzhak and Leah Rabin as well as
Menachim Begin.  My story  is an interesting one in terms of
an evolution  in views.  It's absolutely  critical that some
evolution occur,  some learning  about  both  sides'  needs,
because this  is not a morality play that pits the forces of
goodness on  one hand  against the forces of darkness on the
other.

Second, there  can be no bricks without straw. No matter how
much  America  wants  Arab-Israeli  peace,  unless  the  raw
material is  there, the political will and the urgency among
the Arabs  and Israelis,  we can  try all  day long  without
success.  Every  breakthrough  that  has  occurred  in  this
conflict--Egypt-Israel, Jordan-Israel,  Palestinians-Israel,
came as  a consequence  of secret  diplomacy about which the
Americans   were   informed   afterwards.   That   is   very
instructive.

Third, you  need a  brickmaker. Every successful negotiation
that has endured involved an American role at some point. In
my book,  I nominate  for the  "Peace Process  Hall of Fame"
three Americans,  all of  whom I  interviewed: Jimmy Carter,
who during his presidency delivered something extraordinary-
-an  Egyptian-Israeli  peace  treaty--that  would  not  have
happened without him; Henry Kissinger, and James Baker. They
were  all  effective  brickmakers,  effective  because  they
combined the  4 Ts of successful diplomacy: they were Tough;
they gained  the Trust,  to  a  degree,  of  the  Arabs  and
Israelis  they  were  working  with;  they  were  incredibly
Tenacious; and  they had  an exquisite sense of Timing. They
knew  how  not  to  overengage  (as  Bill  Clinton  did)  or
underengage or  disengage (George  W. Bush).  Not since 1991
have we seen, in my judgment, an effective policy toward the
Arab-Israeli conflict.

Fourth, there is tremendous misunderstanding on the issue of
domestic politics,  where there  is a  dishonest debate. Too
many American  Jews want  to believe  that domestic politics
are irrelevant  to the case for Israel; too many of Israel's
detractors  in   America  want  to  believe  that  it's  all
attributable to  domestic politics.  Unlike professors  Walt
and Mearsheimer,  I actually  went out  to talk to the lobby
and the lobbied. Among the conclusions I reached is that the
pro-Israeli community in America today (5.3 million American
Jews, along  with millions of evangelical Christians who for
reasons  of  eschatology  and  value  affinity  have  become
stunningly pro-Israel)  has a  powerful voice.  It's time we
stop deluding ourselves. But it does not have a veto.

The U.S.-Israeli  relationship is  not some sort of mushroom
harvested  in   some   dark   closet   by   a   handful   of
conspiratorially minded  Jews and evangelical Christians who
hold the  American foreign policy establishment hostage. The
U.S.-Israeli  relationship   has  inculcated   itself   into
American culture,  psychology, politics  and foreign policy.
When we  maintain the special relationship, which I think is
in American interests, and not allow it to become exclusive,
it actually can serve our interests. This is both because it
is in  our interests  to support  like-minded societies  and
because our  special ties with Israel give us a primary role
and ability to help resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Since 1950,  only 22  countries in the world have maintained
their democratic  character continuously.  The notion  of an
emerging democracy--Kenya,  for example--is  a concept  that
may be legitimate, but the ultimate arbiter of everything is
time. Israel  is a  democracy. We  can argue  about the West
Bank and  Gaza, I'm  a vocal  critic  of  Israel's  policies
there. But  this is  important, because supporting societies
that share  our values represents the broadest conception of
what constitutes our national interests.

Fifth, regarding  the Clinton  years. Clinton was one of the
most  empathetic,   talented,   brilliant   presidents   and
negotiators you'd  ever want  to meet.  No one cared more or
tried to  do more  on this problem. But empathy alone is not
enough. Achieving  the conflict-ending  agreements he sought
required a  toughness he  and  we  didn't  have  during  his
tenure.

Sixth,  regarding   George  W.   Bush.  Governing  is  about
choosing.  You   come  to   Washington,  you  decide  what's
important to  you, you  pursue it. Arab-Israeli peace wasn't
important to  Bush throughout  the first  administration; he
had another  agenda. It  may still  not be that important to
him. There's  a chance  that between  now and the end of the
year something  positive  could  happen  between  Omert  and
Abbas, but  this is  really no  longer primarily an American
story. My  friend Larry  Sommers, the  former  president  of
Harvard University,  said that  in the history of the world,
nobody ever  washed a  rental car.  You only care about what
you own.  If a  U.S. president  doesn't invest  in  this  or
whatever other  issue he  or she  chooses, opponents both at
home and abroad will quickly figure this out. That will make
success impossible.

Finally, to  end on an optimistic note, John F. Kennedy said
something  very   important.  He  described  himself  as  an
idealist without  illusion. That's what America needs to be.
I don't  care  if  it's  health  care  or  the  Arab-Israeli
conflict. We  can't tell  our young  people never,  we can't
mortgage the future and give in to cynicism and despair. But
as you seek to change the world, you have to do so with your
eyes open.  Because the  stakes now  are  much  higher  than
they've ever been before.


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