When is it good to be explicit?
David Adesnik writes a lengthy, must-read post about why the George W. Bush and Ariel Sharon’s joint press conference became the lead story yesterday: [W]hat’s changed isn’t the substance of the American position but the articulation of it. But when it comes to diplomacy, articulation matters. That’s why today’s announcement really is a big story. ...
David Adesnik writes a lengthy, must-read post about why the George W. Bush and Ariel Sharon's joint press conference became the lead story yesterday:
David Adesnik writes a lengthy, must-read post about why the George W. Bush and Ariel Sharon’s joint press conference became the lead story yesterday:
[W]hat’s changed isn’t the substance of the American position but the articulation of it. But when it comes to diplomacy, articulation matters. That’s why today’s announcement really is a big story. By staking out a clear position in advance of final-status talks, Bush is essentially saying that important aspects of Israel’s demands are simply non-negotiable. If the Palestinians negotiators accept those demands, they will now come across as giving in to American pressure rather than compromising in the name of peace. Thus, if you think that only a negotiated accord can end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, then Bush and Sharon really have thrown a wrench in the works. Clearly, that is the premise on which the NYT and WaPo correspondents are operating. But there is another premise out there which also deserves a fair hearing: that a negotiated settlement is no longer possible and that Israel simply has to find the best way to let go of the occupied territories. That is why Sharon wants to pull out of Gaza. That is why he is building a massive wall to separate Israel from the West Bank. While one can argue that good fences don’t make good neighbors, a strong majority of Israeli voters have taken Sharon’s side on this one.
Aaron David Miller, a former U.S. State Department adviser, said U.S. officials had previously taken similar positions to those stated Wednesday by Bush. They have acknowledged that a future border would have to be adjusted through land swaps between Israel and the Palestinians, he said, and they have also cautioned that there could be no unlimited return of Palestinian refugees to Israel. Bush “made explicit what had been implicit,” Miller said, adding that the White House had announced the policy without any negotiations under way. Normally, “we would provide assurances to both sides,” said Miller, who is now head of Seeds of Peace, a non-profit group that brings children from conflicts around the world together as a way of fostering reconciliation. (emphasis added)
Here’s the question — in matters of diplomacy and world politics, is it always the right thing to make explicit what had been implicit? One can make the case that an end to hypocrisy is an intrinsically good thing in world politics. However, international relations is also an arena where — in the short term — perception matters just as much as reality. While consistency and clarity can bolster an actor’s reputation in world politics, ambiguity and, dare I say, nuance also have their advantages in bargaining and power projection. There are clear tradeoffs at work here. I don’t have a good answer to this question — well, I don’t have an answer that could be condensed into a blog post. I will therefore leave it to my readers to try to hash out.
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School at Tufts University and the author of The Ideas Industry. Twitter: @dandrezner
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