I’ve always regarded Aaron David Miller as one of the smartest, most thoughtful U.S. peace processors. Since he left the State Department a few years back, he’s been one of my favorite analysts for the simple reason that his take on the Middle East doesn’t flow from hardened ideology but from long experience and a willingness to constantly reevaluate old assumptions.
Call most Middle East analysts about the crisis du jour, and you know in advance what they’re going to say; calling Miller often produces interesting journalistic surprises.
That’s why I recommend you read his new opinion piece in Foreign Policy.
The old peace process paradigm, which he says developed a “dogmatic creed” without nuance, no longer make sense in an increasingly complex region and in an era when some of America’s interests have changed.
“Governing is about choosing; it’s about setting priorities, managing your politics, thinking strategically, picking your spots, and looking for genuine opportunities that can be exploited — not tilting at windmills,” Miller writes. “And these days, Arab-Israeli peacemaking is a pretty big windmill.”
Miller gets personal about his transformation from ardent Foggy Bottom peacenik to skeptical realist. He writes of the abiding faith of a succession of administrations, Republican and Democratic alike , that fixing the Arab-Israeli mess is a critical U.S. interest and that “negotiations can work.”
“If there was anyone who represented the faith in that proposition, it was me,” he writes. “ I recall giving a talk in Jerusalem in the fall of 1998, after Clinton had brokered the Wye River accords (never implemented), in which I argued that Arab-Israeli negotiations and the move toward peace were now irreversible. That remark, one of the great howlers of the decade, prompted a note from Efraim Halevy, then Israel’s deputy Mossad chief, rightly questioning my logic, and though Halevy was too polite to say it in his note, my judgment as well. Still I believed.”
One reason for his change of heart: weak, politically focused leadership in the region.
“Big decisions require strong leaders — think Jordan’s King Hussein or Israel’s Menachem Begin — because the issues on the table cut to the core of their political and religious identity and physical survival,” he writes. “This requires leaders with the legitimacy, authority, and command of their politics to make a deal stick. But the current crop are more prisoners of their constituencies than masters of them: Netanyahu presides over a divided coalition and a country without consensus on what price Israel will pay for agreements with Palestinians and Syria; Abbas is part of a broken Palestinian national movement and shares control over Palestine’s guns, authority, and legitimacy with Hamas. It’s hard to see how either can marshal the will and authority to make big decisions.”
It’s not the analysis the left wants to hear, and the right won’t be happy with his blunt assessment of both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate. But Miller lays out his argument convincingly – and with the ring of someone who’s been through endless peace process cycles, all of which started with soaring hopes and ended up with the same frustrating bottom line.