THE SPINE OCTOBER 11, 2009
President Obama designated George Mitchell his special envoy to the Jews and the Arabs because he had experience with them. Of course, Mitchell's familiarity with the Middle East was the familiarity of utter failure. No matter. Obama couldn't have sent George Tenet again ... or, God forbid, Anthony Zinni. And he wouldn't dispatch Dennis Ross, who knows far too much that wouldn't have fit with the president's own delusions.
Another reason, perhaps the decisive reason, for dispatching Mitchell was that he had resolved the "Irish question," dating back all the way to the mid-19th century, or "the troubles," which it has been called since the twenties.
An intriguing article in the New York Times by Mark Landler, whom I slighted unfairly last month, is headlined, "Clinton Has Warm Words for Ireland and Britain." I will get to Hillary's warm words for Ireland below. But what struck me was her "assuring the British that they still had a special relationship with the United States." The U.S. has had a "special relationship" with Great Britain since the War of 1812, save for a few hostile but feeble interventions by London on behalf of the Confederacy during the Civil War.
For one, Prime Minister Gordon Brown couldn't get a one-on-one meeting with Obama either during the General Assembly in New York or at the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh. But that's just a slight. To be sure, Washington was offended by the sneaky arrangements made by the Labour government with Scotland and the tyrannical Gadhafi regime for the release of the Libyan security official who was responsible for the Lockerbie murder of 270 people, 189 of them Americans.
Maybe Mrs. Clinton is exaggerating the distance between Washington and London by magnifying her own centrality in the truly permanent ties between the two countries.
Or, as Landler put it…
"Giving Mr.Brown a warm hug before a meeting at Chequers, his country retreat, Mrs. Clinton said, 'I have a special personal relationship with the prime minister, and of course, I don't think it can be said often enough, we have a special relationship between our two countries.'"
As almost everyone recalls--if you are old enough to remember back ten years--Hillary also hugged and kissed Suha Arafat, with whom she had no relationship at all, after an especially foul speech for which Mrs. Clinton had a simultaneous English translation.
There was bad news for the U.S. in her meeting with David Miliband, Brown's foreign secretary. Mrs. Clinton briefed the foreign secretary ... about the Obama administration debate over Afghanistan policy. He said that, for all the discussion over sending additional troops--both there and in the United States--the civilian rebuilding effort needed just as much focus.
This is not good news ... and it is more than a bit off the central topic. Civilian rebuilding is a dead letter without more troops.
The Mickey Finn in the Landler dispatch is the news that the Northern Ireland arrangements may be unraveling. Secretary Clinton made much of the threat of renewed violence in "telling the Irish that she would help them keep Northern Ireland's peace process on track."
I thought that George Mitchell had succeeded in bringing the war between Ultra-Protestants and Ultra-Catholics to a close. No, actually, I didn't. And Mitchell hadn't succeeded.
Northern Ireland seems once again on edge: "Last March, two British soldiers were shot to death in their barracks in Antrim; a few days later, a Northern Ireland police constable was killed while on duty in Craigavon, in County Armagh."
And, of course, there was more. So what does Hillary have to say about this?
"Clearly there are questions and some apprehensions" is what she said. Then she went into her reassuring mode--empty but reassuring…
"But I believe that due to the concerted effort of the British government, the Irish government, the support of friends like us in the United States, that the parties understand that this is a step they must take together."
George Mitchell did not receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Not even the Oslo benefactors thought that he had settled the Irish problem. It is not yet settled, not by a long shot. Still, maybe he should go back to Northern Ireland, where all of his experience may put him in good stead. Or maybe not.
An Associated Press report in Ha'aretz carries this headline: "U.S. envoy: Obama won't stop until Mideast peace achieved." This was Mitchell speaking, and it is not clear whether the statement is the president's threat or his promise. In any event, as an article in the Jerusalem Post by Herb Keinon reports, "Mitchell visit brings no visible success." Mitchell’s diplomacy also brought no success, visible or invisible. I more than suspect that the president's determination will also achieve nothing.
The brutal fact is that the Palestinians have not made peace with each other. And another fact is that they can't. The president wants a contiguous Palestine encompassing Gaza and the West Bank. Gaza is under the deadly control of Hamas. Who knows which of the Palestinian rumps would win an election in the West Bank? Maybe Fatah, maybe Hamas. I know that some folks are talking about a truce with the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But Israel is neither Afghanistan nor Pakistan, two permanently miserable societies. Let no one think of analogies.