Nicholas Kristof has a well-balanced piece summarizing the Clinton-era Arafat / Barak negotiations in the N.Y. Times today (registration required). His facts seem right to me — but the conclusion he draws from them is a bit squirrelly.
Kristof is backpeddling from his own previous columns in which he “sneered at Mr. Arafat and reiterated the common view that he had rejected very generous peace deals proffered by Ehud Barak.” He proceeds to walk through the peace offer put on the table by Barak and Clinton at Camp David and —more significantly — the more generous offers which followed.
But after detailing Arafat’s dithering and clear failure to grab the best deal ever offered (or, as has been widely been pointed out, offer a counterproposal), Kristol goes waffly and concludes:
“All in all, it is fair to fault Mr. Arafat for lacking the courage to strike a deal at Taba; for being a maddening, vacillating and passive negotiator; for condoning violence that unseated the best Israeli peace partner the Palestinians could have had. But the common view in the West that Mr. Arafat flatly rejected a reasonable peace deal, and that it is thus pointless to attempt a strategy of negotiation, is a myth.”
Hmmm. Lacks courage — check. Refused to accept last reasonable offer — check. “Maddening, vacilating, and passive negotiator” — check. Supports violence when negotiation doesn’t go to his liking — check.
What, exactly, would make Arafat a poor negotiating partner? I’d tend to agree that calling negotiation “pointless” is an overstatement — certainly at the very least from a cynical realpolitik perspective. But going into it with any illusions that Arafat is a rational partner in the process is simple stupidity.
Stick to those guns, Nick.
Glenn over at Instapundit is The Man, of course, and can be relied on for sound and sensible punditry on all subjects and at all hours. Even he, however, occasionally falls victim to the lure of oversimplification — specifically, the temptation to lump together groups of individuals, particularly when they’re doing something odious.
In Instapundit’s case, the target du jour is “the French”. Actually, they’ve been a favorite target of Instapundit and other blogs for quite a while. With synagogues burning across the country, it isn’t any wonder.
But precision in language is important, and it is that phrase —- “The French” — that’s the problem. I know Glenn knows that not all French are torching Jewish houses of worship, but that’s not the point. In this case, it is more or less harmless fun. But generalizations like this are dangerous — not for any of the usual PC notions that they are racist or any such (although sometimes they are), but simply because they get in the way of genuinely useful critical thinking about problems.
The worst example of this is when we talk about “The Palestinians” and “The Israelis”. All too much coverage makes it sounds like there are two sides to the current conflict. I count at least four: Israelis who want peace; Israelis who don’t; Palestinians who want peace, and Palestinians who don’t. And even that segmentation is a deceptive oversimplification, I suspect. When you think of “the two sides” as monolithic, the events of the last few years in Middle East make absolutely no sense — the two sides seem clearly to be acting irrationally and against their own interests. But when you slice down further — and avoid the easy turns of the phrase like “the Palestinians” — you get a clearer picture of reality, because in fact, each side is riddled with factions whose interests are not common.
Hence, the importance of precise language… or as “the French” would say, langue pr
Well, it’s done. The blog is open to the public… I considered waiting a few days to build up a backlog of posts, but why bother. If you like what you see today, there’ll be more of it tomorrow…
Has it occured to anyone that Andrew Sullivan may have let “slip” his alleged exile from the pages of the NY Times Magazine not by accident (ha!), nor even out of a desire to improve his reputation and denigrate Howell Raines, but simply to perform a real-life experiment to see just how powerful the blogosphere in general (and his blog in particular) has become?
Sullivan’s always demonstrated a keen interest in the power-o-the-blog, and in its ability to provide a counterweight to Big Media. And so I picture Andrew waking up one day last week, thinking idly about his banishment from the Times, and then the thought occuring to him: “I wonder what would happen if…“
Once he’d gotten that far, I can’t imagine him being able to resist the possibility of finding out whether his little blog provides him a more powerful media soapbox than The New York Times does Raines.
I’m unconvinced that Sullivan has opened this can of worms because he’s seeking any particular outcome, even one as base as just humiliating Raines. I think he’s interested in watching the process play out…
The news of the day (yesterday, to be precise) is the White House’s minor little revelation that there was indeed some warning that Al Qaeda planned to hijack American airliners. Somehow this tidbit appears to have slipped everyone’s mind at 1600 Pennsylvania until just yesterday. Tip of the hat to Instapundit (5/15 at 10:31 pm and again 5/16 at 9:03 am) for providing the definitive debunking of the arguments why it’s OK that the FBI, CIA, INS and the rest of the federal government “couldn’t conceive” of this kind of attack ever occuring.
Free advice to the White House for the weeks to come:
Remember the first rule of political scandals — It’s not the offense that gets you in the end, it’s the coverup.