Herzliya Notebook: NATO boots on the ground, diplomatic code words

An American president's blessing can go a long way, but how far might America be prepared to go practically in order to reignite the Annapolis process? Or, put it another way: What price would the US be willing to pay for Israeli-Palestinian peace? "I'm convinced NATO would be willing to put boots on the ground in the West Bank," former US ambassador to NATO Robert Hunter said this week on the sidelines of the Herzliya Conference. "The [NATO] secretary-general has indicated as much, and nobody complained." Hunter, who served under presidents Carter and Clinton and is a senior adviser at the RAND Corporation, added the all-important caveat: "Of course, this would only happen if it was part of the peace agreement, to guarantee Israeli security needs in the framework of that peace. If that's what it took to get the peace, the [American representatives in] NATO would push it." But Hunter's view was not shared by a conservative former diplomat, also at Herzliya. Asked if he agreed that the US would be willing to put troops on the ground, Bush-appointed former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton said, "Of course not." "How would American troops in the West Bank be in America's interest? We simply wouldn't agree to it," he added. "If there really is peace, we don't need boots on the ground. If not, it would be a position that would not be helpful over the long term, including for the Israelis." Hunter served Democratic presidents, while Bolton was a prominent hawkish and conservative Bush appointee. ("I'm not a neocon," he stressed. "Neocons are liberals who were mugged by reality." Then, smiling: "I was never a liberal.") Their conflicting takes may be personal, or may point to something deeper. Could the Democrats be more willing to commit troops to an unstable Palestinian territory than the Republicans? ***** Former US Secretary of Defense William Cohen spoke to the conference on Monday over lunch. Besides calling for "freeing ourselves from the tyranny of addiction" to oil and for recognizing that the recent National Intelligence Estimate "really said Iran has been covertly developing its program for 18 years," the former secretary focused a great deal on "convincing" Russia and China "that it's really not in their interest" to continue supplying Iran's economy and nuclear program with money and material. How does one "convince" Russia and China that this is so? Presumably these countries are led by a political class that does not need American help in understanding where their interests lie. Does Cohen believe that they simply haven't yet noticed that the US is concerned over a nuclear Iran, or haven't taken a moment to contemplate whether it's in their interest? The Jerusalem Post asked Cohen what would happen if these countries, which have evidently yet to see the light some years after the persuasion process supposedly began, could not be convinced. "We're not ready to discuss that yet," he replied. The Post turned to IDC professor Shmuel Bar for some assistance with the diplomatic terminology. "These people use codes," he explained of Cohen. "If they call something 'unacceptable' [as has been the case when describing Iran's nuclear drive], that means they intend to start implementing a whole gamut of steps, starting with diplomatic isolation, through sanctions and onward." If, as in the cases of Russia and China, by contrast, they're using a word like "convince," Bar said, there is still evidently some hope that "by force of conviction alone, by explaining the analysis, [Russia and China] will come to see what they've been neglecting." Does Cohen truly believe this will yet happen? According to Bar, "We've scraped bottom" but it may be that people are still "reciting slogans which allow them to get away with not saying anything harsher." One thing is certain, said Bar: "The Iranians read the code words - and know how to interpret them. And they assume there is no imminent threat from the West."