On Wednesday, the Obama campaign received an important new endorsement: Zbigniew Brzezinski, best known for having been Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, introduced Obama on the occasion of his Iraq speech in Iowa. Expect to hear a great deal from Brzezinski about his triumphs of Middle East diplomacy, which he—not to mention Jimmy Carter—is quite fond of recounting. “The fact of the matter is that I’m part of the only administration that brought about peace between Israel and its neighbors,” Brzezinski told NBC News on the day Obama delivered his Iraq policy speech. “And so I’m proud of my record in the Middle East.”
This is a deceptive attempt at rewriting history, one that Brzezinski and his gang have been pursuing for years in an effort to manufacture retroactively a success story for the Carter administration. The administration didn’t “bring about” peace between Israel and Egypt so much as hold a summit at Camp David to work out the details after Israel and Egypt had already committed themselves, independently and entirely in pursuit of their own interests, to a peace treaty. From the outset of the Carter administration, the American commitment had been not to a deal between Israel and Egypt, but to a comprehensive resolution of the Palestinian question, and it was during the administration’s busy pursuit of a renewed Geneva Conference, inclusive of the Soviet Union, Israel, and the PLO, that the Israel-Egypt deal essentially fell into Carter’s lap.
In the mid-1970’s, Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian dictator, was in a bad position: The war he launched in 1973 to wrest the Sinai back from Israel had been a humiliating catastrophe, and he was under growing internal pressure to do something—anything—to salvage Egypt’s honor and retrieve its lost territory. Sidelined by the Carter administration’s focus on the Palestinians, Sadat’s only option was to pursue the Sinai through peaceful means, by directly engaging Israel. A series of monumental and previously unthinkable events took place: In November 1977, Sadat announced to the Egyptian parliament that “Israel will be astonished to hear me say now, before you, that I am prepared to go to their own house, to the Knesset itself, to talk to them.” Four days later Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin formally invited Sadat to Jerusalem, and a week later Sadat’s plane touched down at Ben Gurion airport. Sadat visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, and then addressed the Knesset, declaring that “we accept living with you in peace and justice.” All of this happened entirely independent of—and actually in defiance of—the Carter administration, whose agenda in the region was entirely focused on laying the groundwork for the hoped-for Geneva Conference (which never ended up happening).
The Carter administration was caught completely off guard by this sudden rapprochement, and had no option but to try to include itself as much as possible in the dealmaking. By the time the Camp David summit was convened in September 1978, the only thorny issue left to resolve was the question of whether there would be any Israeli presence left in the Sinai as part of a peace treaty; Begin was initially intransigent on the question, but eventually conceded to a complete withdrawal. Peace between Israel and Egypt was born.
And so today, when Brzezinski brags to the press about how his dedication to diplomacy got results—as opposed, he intones, to the senseless warmongering of the Bush administration—we are witnessing a self-aggrandizing swindle, an attempt not only at enhancing the legacy of the Carter administration but of advancing the proposition that in the Middle East, peace is always possible with the right amount of skilled and dedicated American diplomacy.
The true lesson of the Egypt-Israel rapprochement is actually the opposite of what people like Brzezinski would like it to be: It is a lesson in the sometimes irrelevance of American diplomacy in forging peace between nations, and more importantly it is an example of the reality that peace between implacable foes is usually only possible when one has so thoroughly beaten the other on the battlefield that the defeated party is left with only one option, to sue for peace. People like Brzezinski would like us to believe that heroic diplomacy in 1978 midwifed a peace treaty. Candidate Obama will be ill-served listening to this nonsense.