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Martial versus Democratic Diplomacy: Part II

A Primer on Diplomacy

Back in 1978, while negotiations were going on between Israel and Egypt, I published a “Primer on Diplomacy” in the hope it would somehow influence Israel’s ruling elites. Of course it did not—otherwise Israel would not be going to Annapolis. Nevertheless, just as Bogart said, “Sing it again, Sam,” I’m obliged to voice the same message to Israeli diplomats today:

A study of autocratic regimes reveals that their methods of negotiating with democracies differ significantly with those they employ with other autocracies. Contrary to appearances, authoritarian politicians are not necessarily less politicians. Of course, they are less amenable to compromise with democratic politicians, but only because they usually don’t have to! Their “stall and threaten” technique when dealing with democracies works well for them; it does not work well when dealing with fellow dictators, and is seldom used for that reason.

Hence it is not only the character of dictatorships, but the cunning of dictators that produces the kind of negotiating tactics we always seem to experience; his tactics depend not only on his system of government, but on the tendencies of our own.

Bearing this in mind, suppose we were to write a handbook for democratic negotiators based on the current and simplistic assumption that dictators have an intrinsic antipathy to compromise. The manual might say something like this:

“The nature of dictatorships makes it inherently difficult for rulers of such regimes to compromise. The autocrat himself is little used to political compromise and tends to view it, as he does all domestic opposition, as a challenge to his authority, perhaps to his very life. This personal hostility to compromise or meaningful give-and-take is reinforced by the inherent instability and vulnerability of all regimes resting on coercion rather than consent. The democratic statesman must take this into account, tempering his expectations and standing ready to take the first step, going the extra mile, and perhaps giving more than he gets.”

Suppose, however, our manual for democratic negotiators were based on very different but more realistic assumptions about dictators. It might read like this:

1. “The nature of autocratic political systems makes it inherently easy for rulers of such regimes to compromise. Successful autocrats are above all things calculating, possessed of a shrewd grasp of facts operative in the negotiating arena. They have no difficulty envisioning the kind of settlement that would be equitable or that would at least temporarily terminate disputes with other powers; and ruling over a society resting on coercion rather than consent, they have no difficulty in imposing such a settlement should they deem it necessary.

2. “Negotiating problems arise exactly because the autocrat understands the propensities of democratic statesmen and the political system they represent. He knows that to the democratic mind compromise is often seen as a good in itself; that completed negotiations are frequently taken as successful negotiations serving to secure personal or domestic political advantage. The autocrat also knows that democratic politicians are impatient for results, especially during election years; hence he need only bide his time, remain obdurate, or threaten to break off negotiations in order to elicit gratuitous concessions intended to hasten and conclude the negotiating process.

3. “He is particularly well attuned to the fact that democratic governments are greatly influenced by public opinion, that opinion is usually divided on all issues, and that opinions in democracies can be manipulated to his own advantage. He is also aware of the democratic antipathy to violence and therefore sees the threat of conflict working in his favor. If his democratic counterparts regard him as irrational or ideologically disinclined to compromise, or if they view his system of government as one that by its nature is unable to make significant concessions, he will know this too and take manifest advantage of it.

4. “The democratic statesman must in no way encourage the dictator on any of these points or negotiations will degenerate into a tedious, counterproductive exercise in making unilateral concessions. He must know from the very outset what he wants out of the negotiations. He must let the dictator take the first step toward compromise and under no circumstances be willing to give more than he gets or give the slightest indication that this might be the case. It must never be forgotten that the autocrat will view all efforts to be ‘reasonable’—as this term is understood by democrats—as confirmation of his own understanding of democratic negotiating weakness, and he will press his claims unremittingly thereafter.”

So much for our primer on diplomacy—something beyond contemporary Israel. To be guided by this primer, Israeli prime ministers would have to transcend Israel’s current ethos as a “normless democracy” where moral egalitarianism reigns supreme and renders the West incapable of dealing with Islamic imperialism. Normless democracy prompts Israel’s ruling elites not only to hobnob and thereby dignify Arab despots but also to foster the pernicious doctrine of moral equivalence.

Israeli prime ministers need to be animated by what may be called “normative democracy.” Normative democracy derives its basic principles, freedom and equality, not from an effete and leveling humanism, but from the concept of man’s creation in the image of God—which alone can provide freedom and equality with ethical and rational constraints.

By assimilating freedom and equality to the concept of man’s creation in the image of God, normative democracy would not be anxious to engage in negotiations with regimes that deny or make a mockery of this concept. Man’s creation in the image of God is the foundation of human dignity. Hence a Jewish statesman would feel it’s below his dignity to truck with despots, with evil men who treat their subjects as subhuman.

However because Israeli prime ministers are animated by the moral equivalence or egalitarianism of contemporary democracy, they deal with depots as if they were democrats. This induces them to engage in the give-and-take of democratic diplomacy expecting Arabs to reciprocate. But reciprocity is foreign to Arab mentality—something no Israeli prime ministers dares utter.

Meanwhile, the moral equivalence of contemporary democracy underlies Washington’s so-called even-handed diplomacy toward Israel and its Arab-Islamic enemies. Israeli prime ministers cultivate this misleading and pernicious diplomacy, which dignifies and incites Israel’s enemies while eroding Israel’s national pride and confidence in the justice of the Jewish cause.

Animated by moral egalitarianism, Israel’s ruling elites—politicians and judges, academics and journalists—have been demoralizing this country. By extolling democracy—which has replaced Zionism—as the only thing that legitimates Israel’s government and its elites respectability, these elites expose themselves as faithless Jews, as Jewish phonies, as lacking Jewish integrity and authenticity—and this is what underlies international contempt for Israel.

Recall June 1996, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed a joint session of the American Congress. When he spoke as a proud Jew he was applauded; when he declared that Jerusalem would ever remain Israel’s undivided capital, he received a standing ovation. Today Congress supports a Palestinian with eastern Jerusalem as its capital!

No wonder: Netanyahu punctuated his speech with the mantra of “democracy”—obviously to arouse support from his audience vis-à-vis nasty Arab autocracies. This rhetoric is a strategic error. For the more Israel is perceived as a democracy, the more it is expected to negotiate away its heartland, Judea and Samaria, to Arab despots..

To avoid the perils of democratic diplomacy, a future Jewish statesman will have to emphasize Israel’s raison d’être as a Jewish state. Israel cannot be a Jewish state on the one hand, and a normless democracy on the other.

However, by assimilating normative democracy to the ethical principles of the Torah, Israeli diplomacy will itself become normative: it will cease making unilateral concessions or self-destructive “confidence-building” gestures to Arab despots—to wicked men.

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