Obama Still Not Engaging Hamas and Hezbollah

by Brien Jackson

The New York Times notes Secretary of State Clinton’s remarks in Lebanon:

Hezbollah, which waged a 34-day war against Israel in 2006, has built legitimacy here by providing a network of social services. Britain recently said it would resume contact with the group’s political wing, which has one post in the current Lebanese cabinet.

So far, though, President Obama has stuck with the Bush administration’s refusal to deal with Hezbollah. American officials reject the British distinction between its political and military wings, and they view the group as a proxy for Iranian and Syrian influence in the region.

“We certainly hope the election will be free of intimidation and outside interference, and that the results of the election continue a moderate, positive direction,” Mrs. Clinton said.

Michael Crowley notes that the administration has taken a similar track with Hamas.

This really isn’t a welcome sign, and the United States, and the larger region, would benefit greatly from increased engagement with both groups. Not because Hamas and Hezbollah are not terrorists, of course, but because refusing to engage them is counter-productive, and directly helps both groups. Hamas, in particular, is rather hard to justify; they earned there position within the Palestinian Authority via elections the United States demanded be held. That we subsequently refused to recognize the victors because we didn’t like them undermined what little credibility the US had left as a mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and continuing to ignore the elected representatives only deepens the impression that the US is too supportive of Israel to be an honest broker, strengthening Hamas’s position in the process. Hezbollah is a bit of a different nugget, but insomuchas their power base comes from the systematic disenfranchisement of the Lebanese Shia population, and refusing to engage with the largest and most important Shia party is seen as a slight to the larger community, this also directly benefits Hezbollah’s local standing.

Which isn’t, of course, to say that you actually have to concede anything to either group, but in so much as you want to improve relations in the subregion, and by extension want to weaken the radical groups, validating the radical’s talking points is obviously not a good way to go about that.

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