The Intractables: Afghanistan, Iran, Yemen, Syria

Afghanistan, Iran, Yemen, and Syria, the unwanted leftovers of Western colonialism, are  situations of intractable engagement with U.S. forces. . Contrary to the Western powers that abandoned their empires, we’re stuck. A relatively new factor, Islamic terrorism, prohibits the summary exits forced on the UK, Netherlands, France, and Belgium.

(MT) Trump calls off secret Camp David meeting with Taliban, Afghan leaders.There has been criticism of Trump’s attempt of a secret meeting with Taliban leaders at Camp David. Since this is not a political blog, I will not join the criticism. While I  privately anticipated  failure of the negotiations with the Taliban, I felt that a public assertion would be more irritating than helpful.

If diplomacy is unrivaled by alternatives, there is no reason to criticize the form it takes.  Where talks are held, and whether there is byzantine secrecy, are not central. Diplomacy has been going on as long as palaver. It seems to be something humans do. To deny the role of diplomacy, as a wasted step before inevitable conflict, is like the assertion of (Minority Report) future crime. In the West, post World War II, diplomacy is regarded as a requirement of a moral foreign policy.

In earlier times, and in other regions, the object of diplomacy has been manipulation. An historical quote, perhaps due to Richelieu or Talleyrand, is close to “God gave the diplomat a tongue so he could say what he does not mean.”  Every student of foreign policy becomes familiar with six teaching examples:

  • Munich Agreement of 1938, which enforced on Czechoslovakia the cession of the predominantly German Sudetenland to Nazi Germany. Hitler proclaimed it was his last territorial demand. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain announced (YouTube)“I have brought peace for our time”  From this stems the thought: Never appease a dictator.
  • Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact of 1939. Unique in this list, it involves two dictators. Adolph Hitler deceived Joseph Stalin  to believe that, with Germany pacified by  delivery of raw materials from Russia, invasion was not imminent.  The illusion was shattered in the early morning hours of Sunday, 22 June 1941, with Operation Barbarossa.
  • Yalta Conference, when FDR sought to curry  Stalin’s favor both on a personal level, and by accession to most of Stalin’s demands. In search of a personal bond with “Uncle Joe”, FDR sidelined Winston Churchill, and the latter’s efforts to stop the annexation of Eastern Europe as satellites of the Soviet Union, with what became known as the Iron Curtain.
  • Paris Peace Accords, resulting from secret talks,1970-73, between  Lê Đức Thọ and Henry Kissinger.  Of note, there were also parallel, public negotiations, valued only as propaganda by North Vietnam. The secret talks were repetitious, empty, and according to Kissinger, a form of torture. Yet the result was an agreement. We’ll dissect this.
  • Shuttle diplomacy, practiced by Kissinger during the Nixon and Ford administrations, which ended hostilities in the wake of the Yom Kippur War,  setting the stage for the Camp David Accords during Jimmy Carter’s presidency.
  • SALT(s) and START(s), begun by Kissinger and continued by others.  Generally positive outcomes, with and without treaty ratification.

Three successes, two failures, and one great deception. Munich and Yalta are infamous. While the Paris  Peace Accords were completely undone  when South Vietnam collapsed in 1975, this result has been cited as a hardly inevitable self-inflicted wound.  Kissinger’s shuttle diplomacy remains durable to present.

In the West, it is a moral requirement to precede the use of force with diplomacy. Alternatives to diplomacy exist with some situations, as   nonviolent opportunities to shape the future.  It is then a boon if the chance of successful negotiations can be determined in advance.  Is this possible?

Yes!  To be continued shortly.


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