Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Bush’s big mistake and Sinn Fein

Irish Voice:

IT is impossible to understand the latest Bush administration move on Northern Ireland.

Restricting Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams from fundraising in the U.S. is a clear attempt to bully him into accepting the new Northern Ireland police force, the PSNI.

The timing is truly remarkable, just weeks after Adams delivered on the seemingly impossible, a full decommissioning of IRA arms.

One would expect that after that truly historic event the U.S. government, which has played an overwhelmingly positive role throughout both the Clinton and Bush administrations, would welcome the Sinn Fein leader with open arms to the U.S.

After all, for how many years did we hear the mantra that those who take risks for peace will be rewarded? Adams has just done that in the most profound way, yet he finds coal in his stocking.

It is particularly disappointing that the Bush administration has read this issue so wrong at this stage. America stood firm for the peace process through far greater crises when the pressure was on to ban Adams or cut off links entirely with Sinn Fein.

Indeed the work of the Bush special envoys, first Richard Haass and now Mitchell Reiss, had been much appreciated in Ireland. Now, for some reason, that work seems to have been thrown overboard.

Asking Adams to move precipitously on policing is a huge mistake. It smacks of a bully-boy approach to foreign policy.

Having just won over even his most hardline supporters on the issue of decommissioning, Adams is perfectly correct to wait and see what the other side begins to offer in the upcoming negotiations.

He has said as much in very direct terms. “Our position on policing is very clear. The British government has agreed to honor certain commitments made on the policing issue. When they do this I will honor commitments I have made, including going to a special party ard fheis (convention) to deal with this matter,” Adams said.

It is easy to translate those words. When the time has arrived Sinn Fein will consider policing, not before. Adams has stayed at the forefront of the Republican movement by adopting a highly nuanced, careful strategy that never moves faster than the slowest boat in the convoy.

The reasons are simple. Any premature move and hardliners within the IRA could have easily derailed the entire peace process.

Given this careful strategy, the Bush administration attempt to pressure him comes across as absurd in the extreme. It is flailing around with a big stick when quiet diplomacy, as practiced by Bill Clinton, George Mitchell, Haas, and up until recently, Reiss has had spectacular success.

Pressuring Adams with demands that he regurgitate State Department approved statements on policing would only cost him dearly in support at home.

Indeed, there are many of his supporters who now say that since decommissioning has happened, their worst fears are being realized — that advantage will now be taken because the IRA are no longer a threat.

Anyone with even a passing knowledge of the Irish peace process knows that while progress can happen in a maddeningly slow fashion, each step forward by Sinn Fein has been achieved by consensus building and plain hard work, both internally in the movement and externally with the other major players.

The Bush administration has now decided it knows better. They need to get back with the program and understand that the way forward in Ireland is through persuasion, not misguided decisions like prohibiting Adams from U.S. fundraising.

'He saw them all as his mother's murderers'

New team, old ideas


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