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Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff

Germany

Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff is a Senior Director at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, a transatlantic public policy and grant-making foundation. He overseas the fund's policy programs. He was previously the Washington bureau chief of the German newsweekly, Die Zeit. Close.

Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff

Germany

Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff is a Senior Director at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, a transatlantic public policy and grant-making foundation. more »

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Talk to the Devil

Germany - My memo to Secretary Rice: a. get invested in Lebanon's future, b. start talking to the bad guys while thinking about incentives to get Syria to cooperate.

Kissing Prime Minister Fouad Siniora on his cheek is not enough to show America's affection. Neither is a little relief package. Congressman Darrell Issa, a Lebanese American, has it right when he says: "10 weeks from now the fighting will be over. In ten weeks, I think we will regret not having shown more empathy for the suffering of innocent Lebanese." America needs to get invested in Lebanon's future now. Three possible elements are: relief, rebuilding and democratic institutions.

In the Middle East, this conflict is increasingly seen as an American-Israeli War rather than an Israeli retaliation. This perception harms American interests. The U.S. does not need to and should not disassociate itself from Israel. But it can show that it is has broader interests. It can do things Israel can't. It can demonstrate that it does not envision a desolate Lebanon, but that it has a stake in a thriving and prosperous country. America should strive not to leave the rebuilding of Lebanon to Mr. Ahmadinejad who has already offered up millions of dollars from his country's oil wealth.

President Bush asked the Israelis not to destroy the fragile democratic government. But the United States herself can do more to protect the institutions of Lebanon. Hezbollah can be disarmed, but it cannot be annihilated as a political movement. If only for a lack of alternatives it seems to represent the majority of the Shia population. That monopoly needs to be broken. A good start would be to acknowledge the right of the Shia to democratic representation by starting to talk to some of the more moderate Shia leaders. The Shia need to have a stake in a unified Lebanon. If Hezbollah retains its political quasi-monopoly this war will have been nothing but a recruiting tool for the next generation of terrorists.

In the end, however, the United States cannot make progress without talking to the bad guys. It comes with the job, Madame Secretary. The unfortunate legacy of America's neoconservative second is the conviction that talking to (some, not all) Middle Eastern strongmen legitimizes their regimes and shows American weakness.

The consequence is an inability to negotiate. America has become a broker in search of brokers simply because it will not talk to the major players. Of the six parties involved in this conflict - Syria, Iran, Israel, Lebanon, Hezbollah, Hamas - only two have been visited by Secretary Rice. How do you hope to strike a deal, Madame Secretary?

In fact, talking to the devil is called diplomacy. Ronald Reagan, the NeoCon hero, has done it. Except that NeoCons have forgotten about it. They chose to adopt a crude version of Reaganism.

There will be no solution without Syria and, hence, no solution without talking to Syria. It will need incentives to convince the leadership in Damaskus that it can gain more by breaking with Teheran than by maintaining an alliance that was never more than a convenience. Unfortunately, Madame Secretary, I am not smart enough to give you advice on what these incentives might be. All I know is that the Shebaa farms will not be enough. Syria has two interests: regaining the Golan heights and normalizing its relationsship with the United States. Maybe that would be the place to start negotiations.

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