Why? Because George Mitchell's track record is based on the Good Friday Agreement that was supposed to bring peace to Northern Ireland.
Ed Moloney, author of A Secret History of the IRA, writes about George Mitchell:
His wasn't the central role in the Northern Ireland peace dealThe obvious question then is how George Mitchell fit in, and Moloney admits that though Mitchell was not directly connected with the agreement that temporarily bore his name, Mitchell's role was important, because if the agreement was seen as originating from one of the 2 sides, the other would have none of it:
The draft of the Good Friday Agreement was composed and written by British and Irish officials and then presented as if came from George Mitchell's own hand.
...So just what was Mitchell's role in securing peace in Northern Ireland? Was he as central and crucial as is widely believed, and what lessons can be drawn from all this of relevance to his new mission? THERE IS NO BETTER man to turn to for an answer to the first of those questions than Mitchell himself. In Making Peace, his account of the peace talks in Belfast, he gives this description of the final 24 hours leading up to the Good Friday Agreement:
"Throughout the day on Thursday, April 9, and on to the night, the parties moved closer to agreement. Blair and Ahern played a central role in these negotiations. They obviously had developed a warm personal relationship; that made progress possible. They didn't just supervise the negotiations; they conducted them. Word by word, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, the compromise came together."
It was a stroke of genius from the two governments to realize that if the proposed agreement were to come instead from the Americans, this difficulty could be sidestepped. Not only that, but the Americans could do something beyond the ability of Britain or Ireland: credibly allocate blame if the talks failed and the violence resumed. And so Mitchell, the peace envoy appointed by Bill Clinton then as he has been appointed by Barack Obama now, was the chosen channel through which the British and Irish achieved their goal. The draft agreement introduced at the talks had been composed and written by British and Irish officials, but it was presented as if it had come from Mitchell's own hand. The parties knew the truth and they acted accordingly. The bulk of the negotiations leading up to agreement were between them and the two governments, with Mitchell very secondary to events. But they had been trapped by London and Dublin. The world believed it was Mitchell's deal and none wanted to be the target for US criticism if the talks collapsed.More importantly, no matter how key a role Mitchell played in the Good Friday Agreement--the key factor that made Mitchell so important in Ireland is exactly what mitigates against his having a constructive role in the Middle East:
AND SO A MYTH was born.
The ploy devised by the British and Irish governments worked for a very simple reason. The Americans were seen by all sides as a largely disinterested party whose judgment and verdict thereby carried extra weight. They had no dog in the fight. The same cannot be said for America's role in the Middle East. The real question arising from Mitchell's appointment is whether Obama wishes to change that.George Mitchell's greatest strength then is no now his greatest weakness.
We should also keep in mind George Mitchell's own expectations for the Good Friday Agreement:
As Senator George Mitchell stated [read online], "It is important for everyone to recognize that the Agreement does not, by itself, provide or guarantee peace, political stability or reconciliation. It makes them possible, but there will have to be a lot of effort in good faith for a long time to achieve those results" (88). The Good Friday Agreement does not guarantee the end of terrorist and paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland. Rather, the agreement put forth provisions that if followed could set up the political and constitutional changes necessary for the peace process to continue. The agreement was an effort on behalf of the British and Irish Governments to enable all involved parties to use political, diplomatic to solve their conflicts, rather than resorting to violent methods to get attention.Needless to say, it is crucial to keep Mitchell's modest expectations for the Good Friday Agreement in mind as we watch him travel back and forth to the Middle East.
One last point bears repeating--and I've blogged about it before--bringing Sinn Fein to the table back then, and by extension the Palestinian Authority now, requires a particular kind of seriousness that the Obama administration seems intent on preventing:
It also has to be said that before that happened, there had to be a change of approach by those who saw terrorism as the answer--and we have yet to see that change.Joint Press Availability with British Secretary of State of Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Jack StrawSecretary Colin L. PowellWashington, DCOctober 24, 2001
...QUESTION: Secretary Powell, does the situation in Northern Ireland not show us all that negotiations is really the only way forward in all of these situations? And just secondly, when you met Martin McGuinness yesterday, did he give you assurances that there is no link between the IRA and the FARC guerillas in Colombia?
SECRETARY POWELL: We didn't, when I met with him yesterday, we didn't discuss that. We were just sort of celebrating the progress that was achieved yesterday. And I think negotiations are always to be preferred to military conflict, and even when you have military conflict, it doesn't always result in the kind of classic military win. Very often, it sets the stage for negotiations.
And so I hope what we have seen in Northern Ireland in the last 24 hours, which culminates a process that took many, many years long to get to this point, is an example of what can be achieved when people of good will come together, recognize they have strong differences, differences that they have fought over for years, but it's time to put those differences aside in order to move forward and to provide a better life for the children of Northern Ireland.
FOREIGN MINISTER STRAW: Could I just add one thing to that, if I may? Of course, negotiation is far, far better -- infinitely better -- than military action. As far as Northern Ireland is concerned, we welcome hugely the progress that has been made following the Good Friday Agreement. It also has to be said that before that happened, there had to be a change of approach by those who saw terrorism as the answer. And that approach partly changed because of the firmness of the military and police response to that terrorism. And if there had not been that firm response by successive British governments and others to the terrorist threat that was posed on both sides, we would not have been able to get some of those people into negotiations. We would not be marking what is a satisfactory day in the history of Northern Ireland today.[emphasis added]
And ironically, we may perhaps never see such a change as long as the self-proclaimed bringer of change is in office.
Crossposted on Soccer Dad
Technorati Tag: George Mitchell and Good Friday Agreement and Obama.