Friday, January 23, 2009

Just when he thought he was out

George Mitchell fights fires. He's quite good at it, actually. Someone could slap around a few waiters or stomp on a few picnic hampers and he'd be there, stretching out terms of peace in those quiet tones of his.
The Chalkboard's support for practical, centrist leanings of the new Obama Administration is well stated. When you're not constantly straining to look left or right, your peripheral vision is left intact.
As such, it's like women's Christmas to hear that Mitchell - the man who brokered the Good Friday Agreement and showed up Major League Baseball for the saucy chemical factory that it is - has been appointed as US special envoy to the Middle East.
And not a moment too soon.
Israel has used up the last of its credit in Washington in deciding to reduce Gaza City to a pile of twisted steel and dust. Iran is close to reaching critical mass in its push for a nuclear weapon. Syria and Egypt have signalled their willingness to work more extensively under a new regional detente. Iraq's provinces are calmer and a sizeable African Union peacekeeping force is willing to take the strain of domestic security.
The window to act is open. It may not stay so for much longer.
Of course, some stark compromises will have to be made across the board. Hamas needs to recognise Israel and agree to a prolonged, workable ceasefire. Israel needs to cede the Golan Heights back to Syria, in exchange for assurances that the Assad government will cease its interference in the Lebanon. And Iran, foremost of all, needs to be fed enough carrots to entice it to stop uranium enrichment, and shown enough sticks to force it to do so.
Mitchell's remit may be blurred and priorities unclear, but significant confidence must be placed in his ability to at least set things in motion in probably the most complex and troubled region of our planet.
As we here on this island have seen, his ability to put in place the wheels of previously improbable peace is uncanny.
If Barack Obama's regional vision is to marry hard and soft power, he has chosen the right man to stand at the tip of the spear.

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