Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014 | 2:01 a.m.
He is well-intentioned but naïve, I am afraid.
The last time I heard words like that, they came from my father nearly 40 years ago when he was talking about President Jimmy Carter and his involvement in what was then the peace initiative between Egypt and Israel.
What wasn’t known at the time was Hank Greenspun’s intimate involvement with both Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s visit to Israel — the first of any Arab leader since Israel became a state — and Israel’s desire to receive him. That is a story for the history books and would take far more than this space for the telling.
My dad was referring to what happened after Sadat’s historic visit and after many Arab countries had already signed off on a framework for peace as a result of Sadat’s courageous effort. That was when Carter decided to jump into the process with both feet. Unfortunately for Israel and some of her neighbors, both of those feet were in Carter’s mouth when he jumped.
I remember my father explaining to me the differences between dealing in the United States and dealing with any country in the Middle East. There was a song that was popular back then called “Two Different Worlds.” The lyrics were written by Sid Wayne around the time Israel, France and Great Britain attacked Egypt over its policies regarding the Suez Canal. It remained popular for many years and expressed the love two people had for each other that might never be because they came from such different worlds.
That always summed up in my mind the differences between the United States and the centuries-old bazaar mentality of the Middle East. If it was love, or even just a peace agreement, the chances of success were slim because the worlds from which the two sides came were so very different.
Jimmy Carter’s world was the United States of America. People dealt honorably with one another and the price was always the price. If you wanted what the other fellow was selling, you paid the price as marked. If you tried to negotiate, it was not only bad form but an insult of the highest order.
The world of the Middle East was very different. Making a deal was a process, and it wasn’t defined by a price tag. It was determined by a relationship that was based on respect for the old ways. And that required sitting down, standing up to leave and sitting back down, all the while haggling over the price. If you paid what was first asked, you were not only being disrespectful, you were also someone not to be taken seriously.
Carter waded into the Middle Eastern bazaar and acted like an American. The planned peace didn’t have a chance. To his credit, though, 15 months later, he convened Camp David and the peace treaty that resulted between Egypt and Israel, while strained at times, has held.
We have what I believe is another well-intentioned president in Barack Obama. I agree with the concept that talking to your enemies first in an effort to achieve some agreement is a far better course than resorting to war. I also think that what Secretary of State John Kerry has been breaking his back trying to accomplish — a stand-down and elimination of Iran’s nuclear weapons program — is exactly what the United States should be doing.
But, like many in the Middle East — including Israel and some of her Arab neighbors — I believe that the naivete that surrounds this effort is a grave threat to peace in that region, just like a nuclear-armed Iran is!
Nevada’s senior senator, Majority Leader Harry Reid, believes the same thing. He has lived the ups and downs in the Middle East, and he has learned the lessons that have been taught throughout the decades.
He and most of his colleagues are convinced that the only reason Iran is even threatening to come to the nuclear peace table is because of the very difficult sanctions that the United States and her allies have imposed on Iran.
And he is determined — even though it pits him against a president of his own party — to do what he can to make sure that if Iran plays us for a fool, backtracks on its commitment to achieve a deal or just diddles us around to gain time to move its weapons program forward, tougher, back-breaking sanctions will be immediately imposed on the rogue regime.
The way I see things, while Obama is fighting against the sanctions effort in the Senate because he thinks it will upset the Iranians and chase them away from the negotiating table, Reid and his colleagues see just the opposite. It was toughness and determination by the U.S. and her allies that brought Iran to the table in the first place, and it will be the threat of something much worse that will keep her there until a deal is reached.
We don’t have to look back too far to see which side of this argument is the naïve one. How about just this past week when Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani — the man who said he wants to negotiate in good faith — told the world that Iran has absolutely no intention of getting rid of its centrifuges and heavy water reactors — both essential ingredients for a nuclear bomb.
I understand that what is said in the Middle East isn’t necessarily what will be done in the Middle East. In this case, however, what Rouhani has said is that the United States is just wasting its time, and that’s time that Iran will spend planning its worst.
There is no room for us to be naïve. The United States must proceed with the talking part of this plan for nuclear dismemberment. At the same time, Reid and his colleagues must continue to carry the big stick of a sanctions program that speaks so much louder than the words of an American seemingly too eager to pay the first price.
Brian Greenspun is publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.