Stephen Walt bait

Richard Haas, a foreign policy “realist” gone bad in Walt’s eyes, writes in the WSJ against announcing a comprehensive peace plan now, and stars hypothesizing about causes and effects, until it sounds like the Dish will accuse him of “the old neocon intransigence on everything.” A big chunk of Haas’s article in this post:

To be sure, peace between Israelis and Palestinians would be of real value. It would constitute a major foreign-policy accomplishment for the United States. It would help ensure Israel’s survival as a democratic, secure, prosperous, Jewish state. It would reduce Palestinian and Arab alienation, a source of anti-Americanism and radicalism. And it would dilute the appeal of Iran and its clients.

But it is easy to exaggerate how central the Israel-Palestinian issue is and how much the U.S. pays for the current state of affairs. […]

Take Iraq, the biggest American investment in the Greater Middle East over the past decade. That country’s Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds are divided over the composition of the new government, how to share oil revenues, and where to draw the border between the Kurdish and Arab areas. The emergence of a Palestinian state would not affect any of these power struggles.

Soon to surpass Iraq as the largest U.S. involvement in the region is Afghanistan. Here the U.S. finds itself working against, as much as with, a weak and corrupt president who frustrates American efforts to build up a government that is both willing and able to take on the Taliban. Again, the emergence of a Palestinian state would have no effect on prospects for U.S. policy in Afghanistan or on Afghanistan itself.

[…]

What about Iran? The greatest concern is Iran’s push for nuclear weapons. But what motivates this pursuit is less a desire to offset Israel’s nuclear weapons than a fear of conventional military attack by the U.S. Iran’s nuclear bid is also closely tied to its desire for regional primacy. Peace between Israel and the Palestinians would not weaken Iran’s nuclear aspirations. It could even reinforce them. Iran and the groups it backs (notably Hamas and Hezbollah) would be sidelined by the region’s embrace of a Palestinian state and acceptance of Israel, perhaps causing Tehran to look to nuclear weapons to compensate for its loss of standing and influence.

Here’s the right paragraph for the Dish to quote in isolation and attack:

Nor is it clear what effect successful peacemaking would have on Arab governments. The Palestinian impasse did nothing to dissuade Arab governments from working with the U.S. to oust Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in the Gulf War when they determined it was in their interest to do so. Similarly, an absence of diplomatic progress would not preclude collaboration against an aggressive Iran. Just as important, a solution would not resolve questions of political stability and legitimacy within the largely authoritarian Arab world.

The Dish hasn’t addressed the point below, which would be primary for any realist calculations of the effects of a peace treaty on achieving … well, the peace James Baker wants (i.e. Muslim-stress-reducing peace).

[…] Lip service is paid to Palestinian goals, but the radical terrorist agenda would not be satisfied by Palestinian statehood.What is more, any Palestinian state would materialize only amidst compromise. There will be no return to the 1967 borders; at most, Palestinians would be compensated for territorial adjustments made necessary by large blocs of Jewish settlements and Israeli security concerns. There will be nothing more than a token right of return for Palestinians to Israel. Jerusalem will remain undivided and at most shared. Terrorists would see all this as a sell-out, and they would target not just Israel but those Palestinians and Arab states who made peace with it.

Does the realist in Haas then speak? He sounds like a small-c conservative here:

The danger of exaggerating the benefits of solving the Palestinian conflict is that doing so runs the risk of distorting American foreign policy. It accords the issue more prominence than it deserves, produces impatience, and tempts the U.S. government to adopt policies that are overly ambitious.

This is not an argument for ignoring the Palestinian issue. As is so often the case, neglect will likely prove malign. But those urging President Obama to announce a peace plan are doing him and the cause of peace no favor. Announcing a comprehensive plan now—one that is all but certain to fail—risks discrediting good ideas, breeding frustration in the Arab world, and diluting America’s reputation for getting things done.

Uh oh, Haas goes all Israel-gooey at the end — Walt should hit here:

Also needed are efforts to repair U.S.-Israeli ties. The most important issue facing the two countries is Iran. It is essential the two governments develop a modicum of trust if they are to manage inevitable differences over what to do about Iran’s nuclear program, a challenge that promises to be the most significant strategic threat of this decade. A protracted disagreement over the number of settlements or the contours of a final settlement is a distraction that would benefit neither the U.S. nor Israel, given an Iranian threat that is close at hand and a promise of peace that is distant.

I disagree with Haas there. The United States can more effectively get Israel to compromise on settlement building — and part of that is toning down its rhetoric so it’s at least not as harsh as how the U.S. talks to its enemies — and a few of its policy expectations. This will help the prospects of peace. The important thing from a realist perspective is not to raise false expectations for either side.

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