The storm over President Bush's "appeasement" remarks in Israel misses the point. No, we should not appease, engage, or give shoulder rubs to Islamist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah. But wishing they would go away, while arming their enemies has gotten us nowhere.
Plus, haven't we, to some degree, appeased disgruntled Sunnis in what was known as the Sunni triangle? Hasn't our Neville Chamberlain-like approach worked there, with varying degrees of success? When Robert Gates talks about sitting down with his Iranian counterparts, isn't that appeasement -- assuming at least that negotiation is meant to make the other side less mad at you?
I would take it one step further. Rather than just sit down and say hello to these chaps we don't like in the region, I say we should outright support them.
Say what? Yes, by railing against these groups, Palestinians and Lebanese voters are probably thinking: If Americans are against them, by golly they must be doing something right. After all, Americans were for Fatah, and look how corrupt that organization turned out to be! Ditto President Musharraf. Our support for President Maliki in Iraq has not exactly helped his standing among everyday Iraqis. Maybe if we start backing Moqtada al-Sadr, the ranks of the Mahdi Army would begin to thin out.
Let's face it: The United States still has some leverage to influence things in the Muslim world, but it's the opposite kind of leverage you might expect. A U.S. endorsement of a political party is the kiss of death. We are like Al Gore and the cover of Sports Illustrated wrapped into one -- our support means instant failure. That is why no Iranian NGO dares accept money (at least not through third channels) from the U.S. State Department -- it's seen as tainted. And it is. We have a regime-change agenda in that country.
Of course, were the United States to start blindly supporting radical Islamist groups, some might catch on. Secularists and moderates might feel alienated and left to wonder: What gives? Or, suddenly there would be this surge of pro-Americanism in that part of the world and we'd be left with parties in power we can't stand and Israel would probably disown us.
I throw this suggestion out there not as a serious one but just to highlight the bind American policymakers are in. To blindly rail against your enemies, or lump them all in the same bag of Osama bin Laden-like evildoers, is moronic and bad policy. Obama is right to want to engage -- and dare I say -- appease some elements within these groups. But if he really wanted to screw them, he would outright endorse them.