Missing the point on Middle East 'engagement'

Now that the word of the day is "engagement," media figures are rushing justifying President Obama's change of American policy vis-à-vis the Middle East. Therefore, Mr. Roger Cohen regularly enlightens us, via the New York Times editorial page, as to the goodness and inner beauty of Iran of the ayatollahs, and the reasonableness of Hezb'allah and Hamasinvisible perhaps to the common herd, but clearly perceived by his enlightened eye.

But while Mr. Cohen deliberately writes in a folksy, accessible style, spicing his pieces with anecdotes and wordplay, another expert, Mr. David Ignatius of Washington Post, produced recently a much more straightforwardly analytical piece for Foreign Policy, which also aims to justify "engagement" as the only rational way to proceed in the Middle East. Telling us that the key demand of Middle Easterners is "dignity," he argues that once treatment of the Moslems with "dignity" is adopted as America's modus operandi, US' clout in the Middle East will increase again, and mutual understanding and gradual reconciliation will become entirely possible. Proceeding geographically, from Palestinians to Syria to Hezb'allah and Iran, he explains how, for each particular group and regime, the "engagement" will work.

His piece is smoothly written, and flows well, yet the key piece of the problem -- that is, strategic goals of those groups and regimes -- is entirely missing from Mr. Ignatius' sophisticated, highbrow analysis. With unexpected naïveté, he discloses the fact in a childishly straightforward way, while quoting from his interview with Hezbollah's Nasrallah:

"When I asked him at the end of our second interview if he could imagine the Middle East changing so much that Hezb'allah wouldn't be on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations, he answered: "The whole world will change. This is the law of life."

What did that mean? I don't know" (and having confessed his lack of understanding of Mr. Nasrallah's thinking, yet straining to make this answer serve his argument of the value of "engagement," Mr. Ignatius appended the following piece of wisdom: "but I cannot imagine that Hezbollah would be more threatening if, as a part of the Lebanese government, it were drawn into a process of negotiation with the United States and Israel.")

Well, for one, Mr. Ignatius, let me take you to task for sheer journalistic sloppiness: if you do not understand the person you interview, you should ask clarifying questions. Mr. Nasrallah would perhaps have obliged by explaining in what way the world needs to change so Hezb'allah is perceived by it to be ok.

And perhaps, Mr. Ignatius, Mr. Nasrallah's words are not so unclear that a highly sophisticated analyst like yourself cannot get at their meaning. It is obvious that Mr. Nasrallah perceives the onus as being on the "world," not on Hezb'allah; unlike the "world," Hezb'allah is ok as it is, and does not need to change. Why? Because it already follows "the law of life," the "law" which the rest of the world would inevitably have to adopt as well. And what is this "law of life"?

A couple of rather notorious precedents give us a reasonable clue as to the usual meaning of such words. Take the Soviets, for instance. For them, the "law of life" (well, they put it a little differently -- "the law of society") was the inevitability of world-wide Communism. For the Nazis, this "law of life" was, as we all know, the rule of the Master Race. Now, what is Nasrallah's equivalent of those? I am surprised, Mr. Ignatius, that you missed it so entirely: it is called "Islam." So, now you can understand how Mr. Nasrallah expects the world to change: he expects it to become entirely Moslem.

And with expectations like that, it is more than a little hard to believe, Mr. Ignatius, that Hezbullah will respond to the present America's new policy of "engagement" and becomes "drawn into a process of negotiation with the United States and Israel."

Not, at least, until the "law of life" makes United States and Israel see errors of their ways -- by which time the very idea of negotiations will become moot -- for what is there to negotiate amongst the fellow-Moslems, Mr. Ignatius?