Necessary Evils (UPDATED)

This is a good development:

The incoming Obama administration is prepared to abandon George Bush’s ­doctrine of isolating Hamas by establishing a channel to the Islamist organisation, sources close to the transition team say.

The move to open contacts with Hamas, which could be initiated through the US intelligence services, would represent a definitive break with the Bush ­presidency’s ostracising of the group. The state department has designated Hamas a terrorist organisation, and in 2006 ­Congress passed a law banning US financial aid to the group.


There is no talk of Obama approving direct diplomatic negotiations with Hamas early on, but he is being urged by advisers to initiate low-level or clandestine approaches, and there is growing recognition in Washington that the policy of ostracising Hamas is counter-productive. A tested course would be to start ­contacts through Hamas and the US intelligence services, similar to the secret process through which the US engaged with the PLO in the 1970s.

Our policy of isolating groups like Hamas isn’t working–they’re going to launch attacks regardless of whether or not the United States talks to them. But, by talking to them, we have an opportunity to prevent those attacks (and the wars that result from them).

Conservatives won’t be happy about this, but their opinion on this matter is hardly credible–after 8 years of Bush-style isolation, Hamas and Israel are fighting a full-blown war; whatever the point of isolation was, it clearly didn’t work.

I figure there will be two arguments conservatives use against engaging with groups like Hamas:

  • By talking to them we legitimize them.

Let’s face it, they don’t need the United States for legitimacy. Terrorist groups have enough popular support to make them dangerous, which is what makes them a problem worthy of our attention in the first place. Plus, in the last Palestinian elections Hamas won by a wide margin; they’ve already been legitimized through popular support. By isolating them we’re not de-legitimizing them, we’re just ignoring opportunities to neutralize them as a threat.

  • We can’t appease terrorist groups.

There is a difference between talking to someone and negotiating with them, and there’s an even bigger difference between negotiating with someone and appeasing them. Nobody is talking about making any kind of concessions to–or even agreement with–Hamas; America doesn’t give anything up by establishing low-level contact with them.

UPDATED: But I do agree with this:

Whether one agrees with the notion of the U.S. opening a direct diplomatic channel to Hamas or not, talking about it right now is very poor timing. If nothing else it makes it appear that Hamas is being rewarded for its behavior in the past month.

If low-level talks with Hamas are initiated, there needs to be space between when the current conflict and when talks start; America definitely can’t be seen as rewarding Hamas, even if that’s not why this is happening.