Commentary Magazine


A Great Opportunity?

Of the many nonsensical assertions included in the Brent Scowcroft-Zbigniew Brzezinski article from this morning’s Washington Post, the most astonishing comes in the last paragraph. The rest of it is really nothing new: Israeli-Palestinian peace is important, it can make Arab governments more cooperative, we already know the parameters in which to solve it, etc. (Scowcroft and Brzezinski include the laughable idea that an international peacekeeping force should be the one responsible for preventing terror attacks from Palestinian territory. These guys, apparently, have never heard of Hezbollah and Lebanon.) But let me jump ahead to the amazing last sentence:

[I]n many ways the current situation is such that the opportunity for success has never been greater, or the costs of failure more severe.

Oh, really? How so?

The authors do not provide any proof from which to conclude that now, more than ever (to coin a phrase), success stands so close that the American government can simply reach out and grab  it. How soon they forget! Bill Clinton went to Camp David thinking exactly the same. Condi Rice, similarly misguided, dragged dozens of leaders to Annapolis.

“Never been greater”? Why? Because Hamas controls Gaza and Abbas’s Palestinian Authority can barely claim to represent a fraction of the Palestinian people? Or maybe because Iran is on the rise and is funding Palestinian terrorists? Or is it because Hezbollah has proved, in the past two years, that international monitoring is a bad joke? Or because both Israel and the Palestinians are undergoing severe leadership crises?

But they are not just saying that the opportunity is there for Obama to grab. They also threaten him with severe “costs of failure.” And that’s also interesting. As I suggested back in August, “[w]hen it comes to last chances in the Middle East, there is always good news and bad news. The good: the last chance for peace is rarely the real last chance. The bad: the last failure is also rarely the last.”

But Scowcroft and Brzezinski make an ever graver mistake. By claiming that the consequences of failure will be more severe than ever, they pull the rug out from under their claim that opportunity “has never been greater.” Opportunity can’t be “great” when we already know that past attempts have failed, that circumstances are tricky (as the authors themselves note), and that possible failure will have “severe” costs. (Ask your banker and he’ll tell you exactly the same.) What Scowcroft and Brzezinski describe is a risky investment, not a great opportunity.