The exciting piece of foreign policy reportage to hit the presses this week is David Rose’s account in Vanity Fair of the covert strategy the Bush administration pursued to undermine Hamas after the group came to power in the 2006 Palestinian elections. The administration’s idea was to use an old Fatah security strongman, Muhammad Dahlan, to head up a new security force that would serve two U.S. policy goals: the unification and reform of the byzantine PA security services, and the assemblage of a Fatah force that would be able to put Hamas in its place.
As Rose reports,
A State Department official adds, “Those in charge of implementing the policy were saying, ‘Do whatever it takes. We have to be in a position for Fatah to defeat Hamas militarily, and only Muhammad Dahlan has the guile and the muscle to do this.’ The expectation was that this was where it would end up—with a military showdown.”
As everyone knows by now, there was no military showdown in Gaza — there was a rout of Fatah’s forces by Hamas.
On one level, this story can be filed away as a smaller example of the failure of American state-building among the Palestinians. No matter how many different and creative ways successive American administrations have arranged incentives, disincentives, aid packages, diplomatic agreements, and the like, little is to show for it but Palestinian violence — whether the 2000-2004 terror war that followed Oslo, or Hamas’ rocket war today. Relying on Palestinian strongmen/terrorists has been a disaster (Arafat); relying on Palestinian elections has been a disaster (Hamas); and now we have evidence that an even finer-grained involvement in Palestinian internal affairs — assigning a Palestinian strongman the task of dispatching with a democratically-elected terror group — helped precipitate the Hamas coup in Gaza. More disaster.
On another level, there is something irreconcilable in all of this furious gamesmanship: The Bush administration wishes to promote democratic Palestinian statehood, yet refuses to make an honest assessment of the political ambitions of the Palestinian people. There does not seem to be a great deal of appreciation for the idea that Hamas represents something genuine about the worldview of a large faction of Palestinians — a refusal to accept Israel; a choice of violence over diplomacy; and a desire in governance for the Islamic over the secular. Given this level of self-deceit, it is not surprising that Condi Rice’s skulduggery only served to worsen the situation.