In the news we are witnessing the failed policies of both Israel and the United States in regard to the Palestinians, the North Koreans and the Iranians. As Juan Cole notes:
Unless Israel and its patron summon the wisdom to take the long view and hammer out an agreement that will give the Palestinians a viable state, rather than simply trying to smash them into submission, the world's most dangerous conflict will continue to rage, with dangerous consequences for all.
In both cases, Israel and the US have cut themselves off from any kind of conversation with their enemies over the last 5 years. In Israel's case they are engaging in collective punishment, which is inhumane and... a really stupid way to create peace.
The logic by the states in power is: force the partners [or terrorists] to stop [terrorizing] by not engaging. Engagement is confused with appeasement. Thus, engagement is held to be its own incentive. Unfortunately, such a view obscures the implicit engagements, say the historic, the subconscious or the economic, between the different parties. Part of this is tactical - for when you don't engage, you can avoid making any real decisions. Of course, one reason people don't engage is a fear of losing local elections - and example of a lack of leadership. Strong leadership [making the decison to set realistic incentives after continued conversations] is seen as weakness. Ironically, the "strong" leadership exhibited [invading the Gaza strip and destroying the Palestinian infrastructure, making ultimatums and veiled threats against Iran and N. Korea], just heightens the anxiety in their partners [enemies]. The partners [be it in Palestine, Iran or North Korea] then decide that the only way they can protect themselves is by becoming even more radicalized, for there is no visible incentive for them to soften their rhetoric. Israeli brutality or American stubborness are bad examples to set for their future partners.
Direct engagement should not be a condition. Direct talks with NK and Iran, or even merely allowing Hamas to conduct its business of policing the state and providing services, would have resulted in more open Koreans, less obnoxious Iranians and a more stable Palestine. As it is, we've lost the few openings we've had: we've called all of them names, we've made ricitulous ultimatums tinged with serious threats. Alas, they may decide to call our bluff, and we may find ourselves having to make a choice between revealing the incompetence of our own policy, or hiding it through military action.
Not a good choice.