Friday, February 6, 2009

Democratic vs. Martial Diplomacy: In Anticipation of Future Negotiations with Iran and Syria

I came across this wonderful presentation on Israel National Radio from January 26, 2009. Professor Paul Eidelberg is an internationally known political scientist, author and lecturer, and the founder and president of The Foundation for Constitutional Democracy with offices in Jerusalem and Washington, DC. He is also president of the Yamin Israel party.

Part 1:




Part 2:




Here are some highlights:

The second error of democratic diplomacy is the prejudice that international conflict is caused primarily by lack of mutual understanding, the supposed root of mutual fear and suspicion. The assumption, typical of the liberal-democratic mind, is that men are by nature benevolent and that through discussion they will discover that what they have in common is more important than their differences.


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Unfortunately, history has little significance for democratic societies whose politicians and diplomats are animated by an election-oriented and short-term pragmatism. This “now” mentality renders democrats impatient for results and dictators know how to exploit this impatience. They know that democratic leaders have a personal political interest in the appearance of successful negotiations. Dictators can violate agreements, confident that a democratic prime minister will be reluctant to admit any failure in his own diplomatic achievements.


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Last and perhaps the most serious error and weakness of democratic diplomacy is that it makes too sharp a distinction between peace and war. That is, it fails to take seriously the fact that for martial diplomacy peace is war pursued by other means. Stated another way; “to men of goodwill, unrelenting malevolence is incomprehensible.” Hardly any politician or political scientist in the democratic world takes Islam’s murderous hatred of infidels seriously, to the extent at least of offering a comprehensive plan of action to overcome a totalitarian ideology more dangerous than Nazism.


And for those of you who prefer reading to listening, a full transcript follows:



Democratic vs. Martial Diplomacy: In Anticipation of Future Negotiations with Iran and Syria

by Paul Eidelberg

Since Barack Obama is committed to negotiating with Iran, and since Israel’s government whether led by Benjamin Netanyahu or Tzipi Livni, will be on the negotiating track with the Palestinian authority, it is of crucial importance to understand the differences between democratic and martial diplomacy. Differences of which Israel’s ruling elites seem to be ignorant. Here is how I discussed the subject in “Sadat’s Strategy” which I wrote back in 1978, and updated twenty years later in “Jewish Statesmanship,” and I will apply it to current events:

Negotiation between democracies and dictatorships is rendered difficult by the basic differences in the political character of the two regimes. Diplomacy is not an ideologically neutral affair. How and why states negotiate- their methods and objectives- depends mainly on their principles of government. The diplomacy of a government based on freedom of discussion, pluralism, and compromise will differ profoundly from the diplomacy of a government based on coercion, propaganda, and conformity. Whereas martial diplomacy regards negotiation between adversary states as a form of warfare pursued by other means, democratic diplomacy- largely the product of commercial societies- regards negotiation between adversaries as a means of conciliation, requiring mutual concessions, leading to lasting agreement and peace.

The methods of martial diplomacy resemble a military campaign or a series of maneuvers, the ultimate goal of which is victory over the enemy if not his destruction. The purpose of negotiation is to outflank your enemy; to weaken him by all manner of attacks. If the opponent is a democracy attempts will be made to manipulate public opinion through the media, the object being to weaken or undermine popular support for the government’s negotiating position. Efforts will also be made to divide the government itself by subtle appeals to political factions and opposition leaders. The principle is: “divide and conquer.”

While martial diplomacy attempts to disarm the adversary through guile and professions of peace, these attempts are punctuated by veiled, or less than veiled, threats of war. This use of cunning and intimidation by the martial school of diplomacy reflects the basic character of dictatorial regimes. Obviously under such a system of negotiation trust, fair dealing, and conciliation are not easy. A concession made, a treaty concluded, will be regarded not as a final settlement of a conflict but evidence of weakness and retreat, an advantage which must soon be exploited in preparation of further advances and triumphs.

Here martial diplomacy is aided by the fact that democracies typically and ardently desire peace. And even in the absence of pressure will make gratuitous concessions to the extent of taking risks for peace. Indeed, the very principle of compromise intrinsic to democracies renders them more yielding than dictatorships. Knowing this the leader of a military regime will launch his diplomatic campaign from a negotiating position involving impossible demands from which he will hardly deviate. For example the late Syrian dictator Hafez Assad insisted that Israel withdraw entirely from the Golan Heights before he would even consider signing a peace treaty. The morality of martial diplomacy is quite simple: what’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is also mine- or at least negotiable.

In contrast democratic diplomacy is based on the assumption that compromise with one’s rival is generally more profitable than his total destruction. Negotiation is not merely a phase in a death struggle but an attempt to reach some durable and mutually satisfying agreement. The means used are not military tactics but the give and take of civilian or commercial intercourse. The problem is to find some middle ground between two negotiating positions, which when discovered will reconcile their conflicting interests. And to find that middle ground, all that is required is good will, frank discussion and compromise. Because democracies are based on discussion the general tendency of democratic diplomacy is to overestimate the ability of reason to produce confidence and lasting agreement; the attitude of Barack Obama and his Middle East envoy George Mitchell.

This tendency of democratic diplomacy results in a number of errors when confronted by martial diplomacy. First there is the error of making gratuitous concessions, sometimes as gestures of good will. The hope is for “reciprocity,” the mantra of Benjamin Netanyahu. But reciprocity is hardly to be expected from dictatorial regimes. As Henry Kissinger has written, “anyone succeeding in the leadership struggles of such regimes must be single-minded unemotional and dedicated, and above all motivated by enormous desire for power.”

The inherent asymmetry between democratic and dictatorial regimes renders reciprocity dubious and the case of Israel impossible. For a democracy to yield territory, something tangible and irreversible, for nothing more substantial than a dictator’s written and revocable promise of peace is an absurd quid pro quo. Yet this defines the relation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, itself a military dictatorship.

The second error of democratic diplomacy is the prejudice that international conflict is caused primarily by lack of mutual understanding, the supposed root of mutual fear and suspicion. The assumption, typical of the liberal-democratic mind, is that men are by nature benevolent and that through discussion they will discover that what they have in common is more important than their differences.

Third, guided by that liberal prejudice the democratic school of diplomacy tends to minimize conflicting ways of life or ideologies. In his July 1996 address before a joint session of congress, then Prime Minister Netanyahu gratuitously denied any clash of civilizations between Israel and her Arab-Islamic neighbors. Such is the influence of democracy on the intellect that not only Netanyahu and Mitchell, but even political scientists tend to think that ideological conflicts can be overcome by confidence-building measures, above all economic ones. Such sentimental materialism is characteristic of bourgeois as well as socialist democracies preoccupied as they are with the enjoyment of the present.

Forgotten is the high degree of commercial and cultural intercourse between France and Germany before the Franco-Prussian War, and also forgotten is that Russia and Germany were the greatest trading partners before the First and Second World Wars. Unfortunately, history has little significance for democratic societies whose politicians and diplomats are animated by an election-oriented and short-term pragmatism. This “now” mentality renders democrats impatient for results and dictators know how to exploit this impatience. They know that democratic leaders have a personal political interest in the appearance of successful negotiations. Dictators can violate agreements, confident that a democratic prime minister will be reluctant to admit any failure in his own diplomatic achievements. Has Ehud Olmert or Shimon Peres admitted that Oslo was a mistake?

Last and perhaps the most serious error and weakness of democratic diplomacy is that it makes too sharp a distinction between peace and war. That is, it fails to take seriously the fact that for martial diplomacy peace is war pursued by other means. Stated another way; “to men of goodwill, unrelenting malevolence is incomprehensible.” Hardly any politician or political scientist in the democratic world takes Islam’s murderous hatred of infidels seriously, to the extent at least of offering a comprehensive plan of action to overcome a totalitarian ideology more dangerous than Nazism.

Political scientists fail to emphasize that whenever a democracy and a dictatorship negotiate publicly as equals the dictatorship gains enormously. Such negotiation places them on the same moral level. This moral equivalence corrupts public opinion in a democratic world already mired in the university-bred doctrine of moral relativism. Consider the case of Israel. Israeli politicians left and right actually degrade Israel by seeking or conducting negotiation with Arab regimes whose media- especially Egypt’s- vilify Jews and Israel. To demand the cessation of this anti-Semitism as a pre-condition of negotiations would enhance Israel’s honor; a crucial element given the overweening pride of Arabs.

Moreover, negotiation with Arab autocrats conveys the impression that they are no less disposed to candor and peace than Israelis, and that agreements reached with these autocrats will bind their successors, which is sheer nonsense. On the other hand, for Israeli prime ministers to be candid about the bellicose and devious character of Arab regimes must preclude negotiation, something beyond the mentality of democratic politicians who must bow to the idol of peace. This is not to suggest that Israeli politicians are truthful. Back in 1976 when I asked a political advisor to Shimon Peres, “What is Israel’s major problem, “ he said and these are his exact words, “We can’t lie as well as the Arabs.” But since then I have learned, that on the issue of peace, Israel’s ruling elites lie, and not only to their fellow citizens. And they lie far more than Arab rulers lie to their own people.

1 comment:

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