Jimmy Carter, James Baker, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft on Israel-Palestine Conflict

by Steve Clemons Steve Clemons publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note 23.07.2009

Landrum Bolling, former President of the Lilly Endowment and Earlham College, has put together a collage of commentary from four outstanding American foreign policy giants.

They are former President Jimmy Carter; former Secretary of State and Treasury James A. Baker; former National Security Adviser to Presidents Ford and George H.W. Bush GeneralBrent Scowcroft; and former National Security Adviser to President Carter Zbigniew Brzezinski.

Two Democrats and two Republicans -- but they represent a convergence of pragmatic thinking and analysis about U.S. foreign policy interests in the region rather than self-damaging ideological or emotional impulses that have recently kept the U.S. from getting on the right course in Israel-Palestine affairs, which are consequential globally.

These vignettes harness a stockpile of major experience on American engagement in the Middle East peace process -- and Baker's comments in particular that the "absolutists on both sides need to be overcome" are right on target.

Scowcroft and James Baker very clearly state that the U.S. has to 'offer to talk to Hamas.' Scowcroft notes that there is more than one Hamas -- and that if peace talks got going, Hamas would not allow itself to be left behind in the process.

These clips also get into the well-known Geneva Accord achieved via negotiations between Palestinian and Israeli political leaders, the Iraq Study Group recommendations, and other issues that must be squarely dealt with by the Obama administration and other interlocutors in the region.

Scowcroft and Brzezinski practically demand that Obama will fail in the Middle East unless he clearly articulates the vision of the United States for the region and pushes hard. Brzezinski is compellingly logical -- and his commentary implies disappointment in the current president and his team for not taking the bit more quickly and decisively.

I would add that Iran's internal tensions may make it a less robust patron for Hamas and other groups and states in the region -- at least for the time being -- and that there may be a pliable moment of opportunity with Hamas that may want to diversity its portfolio of interests and support and possibly adjust its posture.

The question of whether to deal with Hamas or not is just a part of the puzzle.

Israel's preemptive strike against Obama's dealmaking in the region by deciding to expand East Jerusalem settlements is a poke (worse than Facebook) at the president and his team. Israel, an ally of the United States, is testing Obama's strength and resolve as much as a number of American foes. I find myself in complete agreement with Scowcroft and Brzezinski that decisive, strong American engagement and agenda setting are required here.

Obama needs to be smarter, tougher and clearer about American views on Israel-Palestine resolution.

There are two segments of commentary in these YouTube clips -- roughly nine and a half minutes each. I've pasted the first above -- and the second in the middle.

Steve Clemons publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note

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