Talking to Terrorists: Why America Must Engage with its Enemies by Mark Perry

I do not make it a habit of reading books about current events, but Mark Tyler’s most recent book, Talking to Terrorists: Why America Must Engage with its Enemies, intrigued me.  After reading the news reports about our country’s war on terror for the past few years – some saying we are winning, others saying we are losing – I wanted to read a perspective that I would not normally advocate.

The book is divided into two parts – one explaining the insurgency in Iraq and how a few Marines and American civilians reached out to Iraqi insurgents and helped turn the War in Iraq in favor of the United States and its Iraqi allies and the second looking at the complex relationships between Israel and its arch rivals Hamas and Hezbollah. 

In the first part, Perry explains how the Marines in Al-Anbar province took matters into their own hands in order to stop the spiraling violence in this Sunni-controlled province.  Perry describes the three steps forward and two steps backward progress toward a coalition with the Sunni leadership in Al-Anbar.  Perry’s account reinforces my belief that the appointment of L. Paul Bremer as the presidential envoy in Iraq was a disaster (I know hindsight is twenty/twenty, but he did not have the proper background and experience to handle the situation he was put into).

I find Perry’s account of Rumsfeld’s uneasiness and opposition to how the war was being waged intriguing.  Rumsfeld kept his private doubts well hidden from his public views.  Apparently, according to Perry, he did not like de-Baathification or the disbanding of the Iraqi Army.  Perry never explains why, if Rumsfeld was so opposed to the policy in Iraq, he could do nothing to change the course of the policy in Iraq.  Was Rumsfeld pushed aside by President Bush in favor of Condoleeza Rice and Paul Wolfowitz? Perry makes Rumsfield out as an outsider in the administration.

I find myself agreeing with much of what Perry writes about in Iraq.  I think we missed the point in the beginning of the Iraqi uprising – that there were Iraqi nationalists and al-Qaeda operatives.  We did not discern a difference between the two until later in the insurgency – thankfully we corrected our mistake and began to differentiate the two.  Since that time, I believe that we have found more success in Iraq.

Now, the second part of the book, I am not too sure about.  Perry uses the same logic for Hamas and Hezbollah as he does for the conflict in Iraq – that Hamas and Hezbollah are organizations that should be considered nationalists rather than terrorists.  One of his primary supports for this view is that the two organizations are freely elected and supported by their populations.  I can understand why someone could argue that Hamas and Hezbollah are nationalist organizations, but saying that they are nationalists because of “free” elections is different.  How do we know that these elections were truly free?  If I recall correctly, weren’t there calls that Hamas rigged the election when they defeated Fatah in national elections? (maybe I am buying into anti-Hamas propaganda)

If the book does nothing else, it made me think about my views on a region that has dominated our international politics for a couple of decades.

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