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.
The Guardian has spoken to three people with knowledge of the discussions in the Obama camp. 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. Israel did not become aware of the contacts until much later.
Read those paragraphs again, and substitute "Al Qaeda" for "Hamas" whenever the latter appears. If the newspaper's information is credible, the work that the president-elect has done to reassure the country on his national security intentions via the retention of Defense Secretary Gates and the appointment of National Security Advisor General Jones will be undone. Solid, serious appointees cannot overcome such a profound misunderstanding of the nature of the radical Islamist movement. At least overtures to Iran could proceed with the hope of communicating with the pro-American population suffering under the rule of the mullahs. There is zero evidence that Hamas can be reformed or that there is a large population beneath its iron rule that longs for its overthrow in Gaza.
This week I interviewed Salon.com columnist Glenn Greenwald, and the transcript reveals a world view that refuses to take Hamas at its word, just as the world refused to take Hitler at his word in the '30s. It is also a world view that, like the Carter Administration's, simply doesn't want to believe that religious fanaticism can lead to deeply self-destructive acts and policies in the belief that the sorrows and sufferings of this world lead to glory in the next.
There is a fourth book that should be issued to every incoming Obama official, theologian George Weigel's Faith, Reason, and the War Against Jihadism. Weigel's crucial warning is that the secular absolutists of the American MSM and the American left are wholly unprepared to deal with a religion-powered world view because they cannot take it seriously. Just as Jimmy Carter and his colleagues could not foresee the depth and power of Khomeini's virulent vision, so the "sources close to the transition team" clearly have no idea what they are suggesting. We have to hope that those sources will be sent back to the universities and think tanks they came from, and get nowhere near any policy-making position.