Thursday, May 15, 2008

Why We Must Talk to Terrorists

Pres. Bush to Israel's Knesset: "Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along... We have an obligation to call this what it is: the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history."

His remark is itself a "foolish delusion," but not for the reasons pundits are claiming. A fundamental precept of negotiation is to listen and strive to understand before trying to be understood. Bush's error is that he mistakes negotiation for bullying. He may couch his tactics in softer sounding notions, such as "argument" and "persuasion," but after six years in Iraq we know well what his vision of coersion entails.

So, yes, we should negotiate -- with our ears, not our tongues. And we should not call our enemies "terrorists." Mediators know that labeling and name-calling serve no constructive purpose. Our opponents think of us as terrorists, and as long as all parties harbor that prejudice, there will be no progress.

Kudos to Sen. Obama for advocating "tough, direct presidential diplomacy with Iran without preconditions," and for his willingness "to meet with the leaders of all nations, friend and foe."

In case my agenda is called to question, suffice to say that I am an Israel-supporting Jew. And I would personally welcome the opportunity to sit at a negotiation table with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmaninejad , or even Hamas leaders Kehaled Meshaal and Ismail Haniya.

Not to offer an "ingenious argument." But to listen -- with curiosity and humility, with open heart and mind. I contend that that approach is tougher than the simpleminded path to war, and infinitely more likely to produce positive results and lasting peace.

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