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The Problem with Peace Processes

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

When peace-loving people sit down together in a spirit of compromise they can find ways to resolve their conflicts. Does it follow that negotiations with those who don’t care a fig about peace and reject compromise also lead to good results?


Logic says no, and evidence to the contrary is scarce. Yet this dubious proposition was the basis for the Nobel Committee awarding its Peace Prize to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos last week. His achievement: He had concluded a “peace accord” with FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a Marxist-Leninist militia that for longer than half a century has waged a guerrilla war that has taken more than 200,000 lives.

Mr. Santos’ 297-page deal was endorsed by Cuban President Raul Castro (who hosted the talks in Havana), U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and President Obama. Polls predicted Colombians would ratify it by an overwhelming margin in the Oct. 2 plebiscite. But when the ballots were counted, it turned out that 50.2 percent had rejected the agreement compared with 49.8 percent who voted for it. Or as The Wall Street Journal’s Mary Anastasia O’Grady calculated, 83 percent of the Colombian electorate either abstained (by not voting) or voted “no.”
Those who oppose the agreement have been accused of opposing peace. More plausible: They perceive that peace at any price is no bargain and that promises of peace made by unreformed totalitarian terrorists are unlikely to be kept.

Under the terms of the accord, FARC would have been transformed — as if by wizardry — into a political party with 10 guaranteed seats in congress. FARC’s leaders would serve no time in prison, not even for bombings of civilians, executions of captured government soldiers, hostage-taking, cocaine-trafficking, sexual violence and sending children into battle. Combatants who demobilized would receive stipends, although more than a few have vowed not to give up their weapons.


“This agreement generates a sense of resentment among the Colombians, not forgiveness,” commented former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, leader of the “no” campaign. He told a local radio station last week that while he favored new talks, more than “cosmetic” changes would be required to produce a deal he could support.

Colombia’s peace process fits into a larger pattern. Within the European Union there is what might be called a faith-based belief in dialogue and soft power. The United States, as is so often the case, has been trending in the European direction.

Notable examples include the 1994 “Agreed Framework” that, President Bill Clinton assured us, would prevent North Korea from acquiring nuclear weapons. North Korea’s most recent nuclear test — its fifth — occurred on Sept. 9.

In 2009, Mr. Obama was confident that pushing a toy button would “reset” relations with Russia. A few months later, he dropped Bush administration plans to build a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe — much to the chagrin of America’s allies in the region. Five years later, Vladimir Putin’s forces invaded neighboring Ukraine and annexed Crimea.

Two years ago, Mr. Obama decided to normalize relations with Cuba. The Castro dictatorship has become more repressive since.

I happened to be present when Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., was proudly telling students at an Ivy League university how she had negotiated the 2014 deal under which Syrian President Bashar Assad had agreed to give up his chemical weapons. She seemed blithely unaware of the fact that the dictator was continuing to use chemical weapons to murder civilians.


Russia was involved in that deal and with Russia, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has been attempting to negotiate a halt to the continuing carnage in Syria. Russia has violated every agreement in order to strengthen its position, bombing hospitals, humanitarian convoys and U.S.-trained opposition forces along the way. Apparently astonished by such behavior, Mr. Kerry last week accused Russia and the Assad regime of implementing “a targeted strategy to terrorize civilians and to kill anybody and everybody who is in the way of their military objectives.” He added that the Syrian and Russian governments should face a war-crimes investigation. Fat chance.

Of course, the most egregious example of diplomatic delusion is the deal Mr. Obama struck with Iran over its nuclear weapons program. In recent days, there have been revelations of additional concessions that undermine sanctions imposed on Iran for its support of terrorism. These the White House gave in exchange for a non-binding agreement that may delay — but will not stop — the Islamic republic’s acquisition of nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them anywhere in the world.

Mr. Obama’s respect for Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei remains unrequited. The ayatollah’s global ambitions have, if anything, been whetted. Had Americans or their elected representatives been permitted to vote on the nuclear deal, most would have said no (based on polls and the positions publicly taken by members of Congress). But the American president, unlike the Colombian president, viewed such input as neither necessary nor welcome.


Seven years ago, it was Mr. Obama who won the Nobel Peace Prize — not for anything he had achieved but for what committee members (a lawyer, a politician, two political advisers and two professors — all Norwegians appointed by Norway’s Parliament) wanted him to do: end American “unilateralism,” reject realpolitik and power politics, transfer power to the U.N. and other international institutions, and initiate “peace processes.”

He has done all that and more. What the Nobel Committee and others might have learned from the results: that the world of the 21st century remains more a jungle than a garden. For people to wish that were not true is understandable. For Western leaders to pretend it is not true is willfully and recklessly naive.

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