Should the U.S. government talk to terrorist groups? Freelance foreign affairs analyst Perry offers a resounding "yes." His argument, however, is based on a specious reading of recent events in Iraq, which he then extrapolates to other violent players in

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Should the U.S. government talk to terrorist groups? Freelance foreign affairs analyst Perry offers a resounding "yes." His argument, however, is based on a specious reading of recent events in Iraq, which he then extrapolates to other violent players in the Middle East.

Perry contends that it was dialogue rather than the military surge that ultimately ended Iraq's civil war. "The real gamble in Iraq did not actually take place in Iraq," Perry argues, it "took place in Amman" where U.S. officials engaged Sunni insurgents. The assumption that these talks occurred in a vacuum is a consistent flaw throughout the book. To argue that military pressure does not affect terrorists' decision-making is to deny reality.

Denying reality seems to be Perry's strong suit. When he turns his attention to Hamas and Hezbollah, he describes how, after a series of talks with Western interlocutors, both groups abandoned their maximalist positions. Here, he lacks introspection, never considering the possibility that terrorists lie. Hamas, for example, is said to have backtracked on its goal to eradicate Israel and agreed to limit its demands to Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem, this despite the fact that Hamas' unrepudiated charter continues to call for the destruction of the Jewish presence in historic Palestine.

Likewise, he takes a Hezbollah spokesman at his word that the group is just anti-Israel and not anti-Semitic but ignores ample evidence to the contrary. Hezbollah's leader Hassan Nasrallah, for example, has quipped, "If they [the Jews] all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide."[1]

Not only are Perry's arguments weak but so too is his grasp of facts. He embraces Internet-circulated conspiracy theories about U.S. decision-making, misrepresents officials' positions, and presents hearsay as dialogue. Officials Perry dislikes—Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Coalition Provisional Authority head Paul Bremer—become cartoon characters. Tunnel vision also plagues his arguments: He can counsel appeasement to end terror campaigns, but he never considers the impact on those whom terrorists oppose. For example, empowering Sunni rule in Iraq would likely have led to far bloodier backlash among the majority Shiite population. Nor should sacrificing Israel—or any democracy—to autocratic, Islamist terrorists ever be a viable policy option. The question of whether talking to terrorists has a place within U.S. policy options is an important one, but the answer offered here is essentially worthless.

[1] The Daily Star (Beirut), Oct. 22, 2002.