Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Back to Hamas

This morning I got up (at 5:30! I hate it when the kid is teething!) had a nice breakfast, and, caught up in my own insomnia laced problems almost forgot that just last week I realized that perhaps those crazy prophets of the apocalypse (a misused term, but that will have to wait for another post) just might be right.

After my usual bowl of cereal I went downstairs to check my email and see if the world was still being lovingly held together by the duct tape of God's grace. Then I read this article from the Christian Science Monitor. Hamas says that it won't change its charter, which will perhaps force a battle of wills with the West.

And I thought that the biggest problem in the world was that my kid won't sleep right.


Sandalstraps said...

But will we (the West) be willing to wait that long before we do something stupid to try to force their hand?

Brian Cubbage said...

This is the sort of thing I had in mind when I said on an earlier thread that the election posed great risks for Hamas. Of course it can't change its charter right now-- if it did, it would send the message to Palestinians that it is willing to allow the West to dictate its principles. But since Hamas won the election virtually by surprise, I bet that there is some will within the party to change it. (How much I won't presume to know.) You can't win a landslide election and then change what you stand for in the course of less than two weeks without a very serious backlash.

American politics works this way, too. Think of Bush's recent unpopular decisions (Harriet Miers' SCOTUS nomination, veto threat on McCain's torture bill, etc.): to save face, Bush held on to his point of view for about a month, to send the message that he can't be strongarmed, then ended up doing what his critics wanted him to do all along. He probably had decided to do what they wanted long, long before he actually did; he just had to hang in for long enough to create the perception that he can't be strongarmed into making decisions. Also, he saved some face by changing course long after much of the public had moved on to other things. It's a total pissing contest, of course, but then a lot of politics involves pissing contests.

To save face, Hamas might have to wait longer than a month. If Hamas changes its charter, recognizes Israel, etc., it will only come when the world isn't watching so closely, and after the Palestinians themselves get used to Hamas being in power and feel reasonably satisfied that a Hamas-led government can handle its domestic responsibiities. Maybe a year?

Brian Cubbage said...

By "something stupid," what do you mean? The part that really worries me is not that we might do something stupid, but that none of our options might be particularly "smart"-- i.e., particularly good. I'd like to think the State Department and Condi Rice were crafty supergeniuses who can exploit options no one else sees, but they are the ones who failed to anticipate Hamas' victory in the first place. (No one else but the Bush administration wanted to have elections right now, recall.)

Even worse: What if I was wrong? What if there is zero will within Hamas to moderate its position, and what if their commitment is such that no amount of pressure will change their minds? Richard Cohen's column in today's WP makes that case (free registration required):

And he might be right. God help us all if he is.

Sandalstraps said...

Interesting. Brian's comment and my comment have now flipped. My first comment should be read as after his first and before his second. I wonder what other oddities await.

As for "something stupid" I mean anything that might escalate the situation. I'm not sure, however, that we would bear the entire burder for that hypothetical escalation, as Brian has a good point about none of our options being particularly "smart."

The least "smart" option would be to try to undermine or discredit what was obviously a legitimate election - though I doubt that's on the table. Another unsmart move would be to engage in a kind of war of words, like we have with the likes of Iran and South Korea, declaring them "evil." We might be right we when say such things, but they don't help.

I'm not sure that it would be wise to cut off all aid to Palestine. That approach failed to get "the people" to turn on either Saddam Hussein or Fidel Castro, so I don't see why it would work here. Hamas clearly enjoys the popular support of Palestinians and any punitive action against Palestine for electing Hamas could actually help their standing. Clearly there is more emotion (and most of it is anger) than reason already, so why should we make an angry population more angry in the hopes of de-radicalizing them?