Friday, May 16, 2008

Negotiation is not Appeasement

The past couple days there has been a discussion between American political figures about appeasement.

One side says it is appeasement to be willing to negotiate with one’s enemies. Candidate Obama—who may have been the target of the remarks by President Bush and Candidate McCain—says it is not appeasement to be willing to talk, as a means of averting violence when there are strong issues between the two sides.

This web log is not about picking politicians. It is about negotiation. Negotiation is not appeasement, it is good sense. Being willing to negotiate—in a context of some agreed ground rules—is the beginning of solving problems by resolving issues.

You need a reasonable set of ground rules, whether the issues are as large as those in the Middle East, or as small as whether Johnnie or Susie gets to play with the fire truck for the next half hour. Those ought to include agreement to be civil, not to call names or make accusations. Instead, the focus ought to be, first, on clear statements by each side on what they need to get out of the negotiation. Not “You stop hitting me.” /”You stop cursing me first.”

Instead, “I need to be able to live without being hit.” The debate is not then to be about which side is stronger and can win a battle, but whether both sides would be happy without violence, and what the details of such a peace would be.

Both sides should be creative about what they might concede to get peace, provided those concessions are part of a package, a complete deal.

The deal struck ought to be one which outsiders would consider reasonable, fair and just.

Although the root of the word “appease” is in the word “peace”, we today usually take the word to mean to buy off at the expense of principle.

However, not every principle is one most people would consider fair, reasonable and just. For example, drawing from the Middle East, some Americans would consider it their principle that every nation should be democratic in government. But not everyone would agree that it is just to apply that principle to a nation not your own.

Some Muslims believe as a principle that a government must follow strictly the rules and governmental structures laid down in the Quran. They do not accept a democratic government, nor practice by non-Muslims of rules of life not in the Quran, e.g., their own faith’s rules of life.

It is clear both cannot exactly follow their principles and come to an agreed resolution, because both sides wish to apply their own principles outside their own dominion. Both sides will need to give to get.

I am not suggesting what that might look like. Wiser heads than mine have been working on this for many decades.

I do suggest that there are rules both sides could agree on during the process of coming to terms, such as mutual respect, civility, working together creatively to make a resolution, and listening sincerely to the views of third parties on what is fair, reasonable and just.

One can, then, be firm (“I will talk, but I reserve the right to say ‘no.’”), and insist on those rules of process as a precondition to speaking, while expressing a willing to negotiation. That is not appeasement.

Negotiation 101: One can negotiate, under pre-established rules of process, aiming at a mutually agreed bargain, without it being appeasement.