I've just finished reading in the New York Times about a bold and breath-taking concept in brokering peace. It's called face-to-face negotiating. It happened today in Belfast, Ireland. The net result was an agreement to form a joint administration to govern Northern Ireland. I am amazed, amazed, I tell you. Read on.
Gerry Adams (left, of Sinn Fein, closely associated with the I.R.A.) and Ian Paisley (right, the Protestant leader) put down their terrible swift swords and (gasp!) talked! To each other! And while it's not yet written in stone, it appears that Britain may soon cede some responsibility for running the country back to its residents.
Adams and Paisley, you will recall, have a bitterly troubled past. They've never had much good to say about each other nor for each other's Church. Paisley once famously described the Roman Catholic Church "the mother of harlots and the abomination of the earth." I am guessing that did little for the prospects of peace at that time.
The Times reminds us that over the past three decades, roughly 3,700 people died during The Troubles in Northern Ireland that ended some 10 years ago. Draw your own current time comparisons with that number.
In 2005, the I.R.A. pledged to put its weapons beyond use and to pursue its goals by political means, not armed struggle. Right up until the last few weeks, Mr. Paisley pressed Sinn Fein for further concessions, including acceptance of the province's policing arrangements, traditionally dominated by Protestants.
At a meeting last October in St. Andrew's, Scotland, Britain and Ireland laid out a timetable that foresaw the power-sharing administration being revived today. Britain had threatened to restore full direct rule of Northern Ireland if that deadline was not met. (NOTE: The deadline was March 26, but Paisley has pressed for a delay to May 8.) But a British official said today: "If there's a consensus about the way forward the British government isn't going to stand in the way of that consensus."
It's an interesting article. You might want to read all of it. But here's the deal. (You know what's coming, don't you?)
Here in the United States '" arguably the most civilized and progressive nation in the world '" we have reverted to brute force and savage bullying to have our way. More precisely, to have the Bush administration's way, however abstruse that may be. The net result is disastrous, trending cataclysmic, littered as it is with mangled bodies and fractured promises. Oh, well, says our fearless leader. I'm a war president and we must expect to make sacrifices.
Who'd have imagined that Northern Ireland would end up showing the United States how to broker peace instead of the other way around? It's not a done deal, of course, and they have miles to go before they sleep. They also have a long and bloody history, because nations seem to have to let blood flow before the people cry, "Enough!"
Now the mortal enemies'"not their minions'"are seated at the same table, close enough to hear each other breathe. To finally look into each other's eyes and not make that into a sound bite. To hope for something better than what has been. To consider the very real possibility of peace. They seem to have put their egos on the back burner, at least for a while.
Today, I am wishing more than ever before that we had grown-ups in the White House. Real human beings who understand and practice the art of diplomacy. Who value that more highly than the current administration's commitment to ship 'em out, shoot 'em up and bring 'em home in body bags or stretchers bound for Walter Reed. And P.S., where's the oil?
The prickly Ian Paisley had this to say at the conclusion of the unprecedented meeting with Gerry Adams:
"We must not allow our justified loathing of the horrors and tragedies of the past to become a barrier to creating a better and more stable future. In looking to the future, we must never forget those who have suffered during the dark period from which we are, please God, emerging."
Amen, brother, amen.