Friday, July 2, 2010

Fun With Hamas, Hizballah, and History

The political world is atwitter with rumors that the US is secretly negotiating with Hamas, fueled by a growing stream of articles citing experts and others who urge that the government do just that. The advice fuels the rumors, and the rumors confirm the advice (1, 2, 3, 4 ). It’s a perfect feedback loop. The latest accelerant, in the June 30 Foreign Policy, was Mark Perry’s article on a report by the “Red Team” of CENTCOM planners, advocating engagement with both Hamas and Hizbullah as the key to Middle East peace.

Some highlights:
• support for integration of Hamas into the security forces of the Palestinian Authority and of Hizballah into the Lebanese armed forces, respectively, which currently “represent only a part of the . . . populace.”
• “while Hizballah and Hamas ‘embrace staunch anti-Israel rejectionist policies,’ the two groups are ‘pragmatic and opportunistic.’”
• "Putting Hizballah, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and al Qaeda in the same sentence, as if they are all the same, is just stupid," [a senior officer] said. "I don't know any intelligence officer at CENTCOM who buys that."
It’s an appealing idea to a desperate world and it might be compelling—if it rested on valid assumptions. The assumptions are that all groups and states are driven by the same motivations and calculus and susceptible to the same stimuli of reward and punishment. The point is not that states occasionally have to engage with unsavory interlocutors for tactical and pragmatic reasons; few political realists would disagree with that. Rather, the question involves strategies and long-term expectations.  The ultimate assumption, put bluntly, is that the radicals are not serious about what they say, and that their stated goals are not real goals. It’s therefore about gambling on their willingness to compromise on their fundamentals as well as incidentals. Not everyone is willing to take that gamble. This is where history comes in.

This is the same mistake that most politicians, unable to see that they were confronted with something qualitatively new, made in dealing with Nazism (disclaimer: no further parallel implied). Western liberals assumed that the Nazis were basically dissatisfied rational actors who could be appeased, co-opted, or controlled. The dogmatic left assumed that Nazism was a stalking horse for traditional reaction and material interests—the last gasp of monopoly capitalism—rather than what it said it was: namely, a revolutionary movement, based on a mystical notion of national death and resurrection, ideologically anti-capitalist, anti-liberal, and anti-Marxist at once.

This is not to say that these movements are “irrational” if the implication is that they have no internal consistency. It’s just that their “rationality” rests on an utterly different foundation. Peter Drucker captured the problem in a nutshell in his End of Economic Man, neglected when it appeared in 1939 and not fully appreciated even after it was reprinted more than a generation ago. He recalls how he suddenly understood the fascist mentality when he heard a Nazi at a rally declare: "We don't want lower bread prices, we don't want higher bread prices, we don't want unchanged bread prices — we want National-Socialist prices." In other words, it was about a comprehensive worldview, a symbolic rather than practical politics, total ideological saturation rather than material gain.

I can just imagine the scenarios that would have transpired, had “experts” and statesmen in earlier ages applied the "Red Team" logic to problems in their own world.

 a cozy coffee with a "pragmatic and opportunistic" rejectionist:
Sudeten German leader Konrad Henlein in London, 1938

* * *
The Court, at Rome, February 1519
To His Holiness, Pope Leo X

We humbly submit that Your Holiness was premature in dismissing the affair of the 95 Theses as nothing but another monks’ quarrel. Clearly, the problem is real and will not go away. However, persecuting Dr. Luther would risk making a martyr of him and radicalizing more people, especially the young, thus increasing the number of his potential recruits.

To be sure, many of his statements are extreme, but he uses them mainly in order to stir up his German followers, who are motivated by resentment of Rome. True, he refuses to recant, but in our estimation, this is just a negotiating stance, intended to wring from us further concessions. We therefore cannot believe that he will continue to cling to his maximalist position. To challenge the supreme pontifical authority would be to destroy the Church itself, which even he must realize is folly. Many of his other demands are legitimate and should be addressed.

He is crude, but above all, pragmatic and opportunistic, more interested in power and the pleasures of this earth than spiritual rebellion. We suggest: First, take action against the more visible forms of corruption: Deprive him of the most popular grounds for complaint, and his movement will collapse like a soap bubble. Second, rather than condemning him, bring him into the ecclesiastical hierarchy: grant him a bishopric, perhaps. That should satisfy his ego, fill his belly, and stop his mouth.

You should rather have him inside the church passing water outward, than outside, making water upon its holy precincts (if you will pardon the earthy expression). Place your faith in this counsel, for we are convinced that it will secure for you success.

May God grant a favorable issue; and now farewell in the Lord.

Hieronymus Rothgespann, Doctor, by the grace of God, Apostolic Prothonotary

* * *
Washington, D.C.
October 20, 1859

Dear Mr. President,

We hate to say, “we told you so,” and yet, indubitably, undeniably, such we did.

Had you followed our advice and arranged to put Mr. Brown in charge of the Harpers Ferry (or even Springfield) Armory, this tragedy could have been averted. To be sure, he would no doubt have clung to some of his more fevered views. However, losing his outlaw status would have deprived him of a platform for them.

Once placed in charge, Mr. Brown would quickly have had to learn responsibility or face the prospect of losing both his position and his access to firearms. It is easy to clamor for guns when you have none. It is far harder to manage an armory, clean and inspect the weapons, arrange for the emptying of the ash cans, procure victuals, and meet payroll. One is simply too busy for “activism.” Over time, Mr. Brown would have come to appreciate the limitations within which the federal government must operate and learned patience and self-control in both politics and personal life.

Unfortunately, you did not permit yourself to put our expert advice to the test. We say this with malice toward none and charity for all. Trusting that you will have more faith in our recommendations next time, we remain, with deepest respect, and in anticipation of many years of remaining mutually serviceable,

Yours very truly, etc., etc.

Elihu Redding & Co.
* * *
Washington, D.C.
[n.d.; presumably, April 1861]

Dear Mr. President,

Just as we opposed the violent tactics of Mr. John Brown some two years ago, so, too, we now condemn the recent attack by southern rebels on Fort Sumter. The excesses of one side do not justify those of the other, for they just perpetuate the cycle of violence.

Although it would no doubt be tempting to retaliate against the rebels with the full weight of the Federal Army, we urge you to ponder carefully the consequences of any action. To use force would be to fall into the trap that the radicals have set: their aim is to disrupt the tenuous peace and goad you into responding disproportionately, thereby radicalizing southerners, and especially slaveholders, who already feel themselves to be without hope.

Slavery is an idea, and you cannot destroy an idea by force of arms. The path of wisdom is instead to encourage the moderate elements among the Secessionists . . .

[rest of document missing]
* * *
Washington, January 1933

Dear Mr. President,

In our opinion, the only solution to the political and economic crisis in Germany is for President Hindenburg to bring Adolf Hitler and the NSDAP into the government.

Though this may at first sight seem controversial, it is based on incontrovertible logic. To be sure, Herr Hitler and his Brownshirts say some pretty frightening things, but their views and behavior are a response, albeit, an extreme one, to the frustrations that they feel. Truth be told, they have many legitimate grievances: the Versailles Treaty, the lack of self-determination for Germans in other lands, economic hardship, and the threat of the vastly more dangerous communists.

As disgruntled spoilers, they are a force for instability, but one cannot destroy them and one cannot ignore them. The current situation is simply not sustainable. Once forced to assume responsibility—to wear a suit instead of a uniform, to conduct the affairs of state and make reparations payments—rather than merely protest and speechify, Herr Hitler will perforce moderate his words and ways. He will be too busy dealing with the economic crisis to rant about the Jews or threaten his neighbors.

Of course, we cannot bring stability to the state without bringing stability to the military. It makes no sense for the national armed forces to represent only a part of the German populace. We thus further recommend integration of the Storm Troopers (SA) and SS into the Reichswehr. True, this would require a revision of the Versailles Treaty, but the small costs would be repaid many times over: We would be righting a moral wrong by softening its unjust provisions and we would thereby deprive extremists of one of their main arguments. The SA and SS, for their part, would learn proper military discipline and loyalty to the state rather than the party. In fact, they could become the best guarantee for long-term stability and moderation of the regime.

In our assessment, there are only two possible scenarios: either Hitler will grow more moderate and become a responsible and successful leader, or he will fail and promptly be forced from power, ending his political career. It’s a win-win situation.

We are confident of the correctness of this view, and as always, thank you for your confidence in our services and us.

Very sincerely yours,

Red Team Associates, Inc.
* * *
Berlin November 1933

Dear Mr. President,

Herewith, the promised update, based on our latest analysis of the situation in Germany.

On the surface, to be sure, Herr Hitler seems to be consolidating his power without moderating his tone or policies, but this in no wise invalidates our earlier prediction. Indeed, it merely proves the correctness of our assumptions. To those who are still concerned over the seemingly bellicose Nazi rhetoric regarding the European peace, the racial question, and the like, we cite the assessment of our expert on the scene:
Are these statements really complete evidence of National Socialist aggressiveness in foreign affairs or do they merely strike an attitude which is designed to attract patriotic Germans to the movement and give it a popular hold on conservative opinion, which might otherwise be alienated by the radical character of the movement? I think there is some justification for believing that a great deal of the Nazis’ war talk, superman talk and posing is simply designed to impress their own followers and should be heavily discounted.
Trusting that this reassures you, we remain at your constant disposal.

Very sincerely yours,
Red Team Associates, Inc.
* * *
London, April 1,1938

Dear Mr. Prime Minister

It is true that the Nazi regime has now been in power for some five years, during which time it has eliminated all other political parties and persecuted political dissenters, passed discriminatory racial laws, abrogated the Versailles Treaty, rearmed, withdrawn from the League of Nations, and found itself at the center of various international crises. However, this in no wise invalidates our earlier assessment. Indeed, it merely proves the correctness of our assumptions. We have repeatedly put Hitler to the test and made him accountable for his actions by forcing him to acquire his territorial gains without violence.

There remains but one obstacle to a just and lasting peace. The current situation in Czechoslovakia is unsustainable and destabilizing Europe as a whole. Czechoslovakia cannot lay full claim to the title of the only democracy in the region as long as it rejects the Sudeten German demands for self-determination, and we for our part cannot credibly preach democracy to others as long as we are seen as supporters of the Czechoslovaks; this is rapidly becoming a foreign-policy liability for us.

The leader of the Sudetendeutschen, as you know, is Herr Henlein. He seems rather a good chap, and a man we can do business with: quiet, well mannered, a former bank clerk. Some are hesitant because Hitler has adopted the Sudeten cause as his own. To be sure, both Herr Henlein and Herr Hitler speak the language of aggrieved minorities and the right to self-determination, but this is the extent of the connection. There is no evidence whatsoever that Henlein and his Blueshirts are a proxy for Nazi Germany. This is just the tired refrain of the alarmist Czech nationalists, who seek to entangle us in their conflict. As one of our experts explains, “Putting Henlein and Hitler in the same sentence, as if they are all the same, is just stupid. We don’t know any intelligence officer who buys that.”

Some say that yielding to Henlein’s demands would be to give in to coercion and set a dangerous precedent. On the contrary, refusing to engage Herr Henlein may have the reverse effect of tightening his bonds with Nazi Germany, precisely the result we wish to avoid. Hitler is able to exploit the issue as long as it is unresolved. We may not approve of dictatorships, but there they are. You cannot remove them. We have to live with them. We should take any and every opportunity to remove any genuine and legitimate grievances that may exist.

We therefore need to encourage and mainstream the moderate elements among the Sudeten German separatists. If you don’t deal with Henlein now, you will have to deal with Hitler later. It’s that simple.

Herr Hitler has said that, after this, he will have no more territorial claims on his neighbors. If, as scarcely seems conceivable, he breaks his word, then he will have fallen into our trap and it will be plain for all to see that we hold the moral high ground.

Yours very truly, etc., etc.
Red Team Associates (UK), Ltd.
* * *


• The analysis from November 1933 is taken from an actual dispatch by the US commercial attaché in Berlin: Douglas Miller, “Hitler and the Stability of Eastern Europe,” in his Via Diplomatic Pouch, (New York, 1944), 81.

• The 1938 comments about living with dictatorships and satisfying their legitimate demands come from a speech by Neville Chamberlain at Birmingham on April 8.

• Henlein, it was definitively proven after the war, had been in the pay of the Nazis since 1937, but  had been under strict orders to deny the association in his dealings with the western powers.

No comments: