Friday, February 27, 2009


New York Times correspondent Michael Slackman thinks the "T" word is loaded and tends to upset the terrorists who, after all, feel entitlef to consider their opponents (read: victims) as terrorists as well - MEMO FROM CAIRO DISENTANGLING LAYERS OF A LOADED TERM IN SEARCH OF A THREAD OF PEACE

"If President Obama is serious about repairing relations with the Arab world and re-establishing the United States as an honest broker in Middle East peace talks, one step would be to bridge a chasm in perception that centers on one contentious word: terrorism."

And so, peace will come if we describe thugs and murderers whose avowed aim is to commit genocide as what?

Rock stars?

Eric Trager of Commentary Magazine does a number on the Slackman whose own name, at least, is an apt description. The slack man is just a lazy journalist.

First, the administration’s choice of words – i.e., whether it calls Hamas and Hezbollah “terrorists” or “our dearest friends” – has nothing to do with Israeli-Palestinian peace prospects. Hamas didn’t start firing rockets into Israel because the Bush administration called it a terrorist organization; nor did Hezbollah kidnap Israeli soldiers to set off the 2006 Lebanon war because it was on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. In short, Slackman’s causal argument is at odds with the facts, not to mention basic logic.

Second, it’s not clear what the upshot is of the U.S. changing the language it uses to describe these groups. For starters, it seems incredibly unlikely – and that’s being generous – that Hamas would suddenly be willing to recognize and make peace with Israel if the U.S. no longer referred to it as a terrorist organization. Moreover, changing our definition of “terrorist” to give Hamas and Hezbollah a pass would jeopardize U.S. public diplomacy: the moment we fail to call non-state actors who target civilians for political ends – and this is precisely what Hamas and Hezbollah do – terrorists, we lose the right to our most compelling and widely accepted moral argument against al-Qaeda. How long will it be before 9/11 is seen as remarkable only on account of its scale, with its criminality a topic for navel-gazing debate?

Finally, Slackman conveniently ignores the primary reason why the U.S. still refers to Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist organizations – namely, because these groups have refused to renounce terrorism, and doing so has long been a key precondition for their engagement with the U.S. Naturally, Slackman doesn’t bother to ask a leader from Hamas or Hezbollah the obvious question: if you’re not really a terrorist organization, why don’t you just renounce terrorism as per western demands?

Of course, it’s easy to explain these oversights. In Slackman’s world, the Arab-Israeli conflict has little to do with the major combatants’ strategic choices – after all, Slackman doesn’t interview these combatants. Rather, he interviews ordinary Egyptians and a handful of former Arab diplomats and scholars – so, naturally, resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict requires that the U.S. do what it must to achieve their approval.

Does foreign policy analysis get any lazier than this?

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