Earlier this week, the Reverend Jesse Jackson traveled to Belgrade on a "mission of faith." Jackson met with Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic, joined hands in prayer with him and succeeded in securing the release of three American POWs.
While everyone certainly rejoices in the safe return of our military personnel, Jackson's mission has attracted a hail of criticism. He made his trip against the express objections of the Clinton administration, and his conference with Milosevic has been described as a self-serving publicity stunt that recklessly imparted legitimacy to an unrepentant tyrant. Of course, this is not the first time that Jackson has exploited the American public's sentimentality at the expense of our larger foreign policy.
In 1984, Jackson appealed to Syrian dictator Hafez al-Assad to release a Navy pilot that had been shot down over Lebanon. A few months later he went to Cuba to meet with Fidel Castro and arrange for the liberation of prison inmates. In the months preceding the Gulf War he met with Saddam Hussein to negotiate the release of foreigners being held there. In all these cases, his success in aiding the individuals in need must be appreciated. But at what cost are such victories won?
In every instance Jackson has embarked on one of his humanitarian appeals he has done so against the wishes of the elected American officials dictating our foreign policy. In fact, his very ability to achieve these victories is predicated on the fact that he is essentially a rogue operator.
Milosevic released the POWs to Jackson because, not only does it attract Serbia some much-needed positive publicity, but it serves as an embarrassing slight to Milosevics real adversaries, President Clinton and NATO. Jackson embraces dictators and short-sightedly pursues small emotional accomplishments at the expense of grander strategic considerations.
Some have claimed that Jackson's only motive in these missions is self-aggrandizement. There is a convincing case to be made for this accusation, but I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. I will assume that Jackson is merely interested in alleviating suffering and resolving conflicts. The harm done to our larger national goals is simply incidental. It would be a shame, then, to see Jackson retreat from his good works merely because they complicate our ability to manage consistently our international affairs. Perhaps he should just re-direct his energies to problems with less far-reaching implications.
To help Jackson find a more productive outlet for his obviously formidable healing powers I offer the following list of trouble-spots:
Mia and Woody. Ever since Woody Allen ran off with Mia Farrow's adopted daughter Soon-Yi, an icy frost has descended on the relationship between these two stars of the screen and former lovers. Mia even maliciously charged Woody with child molestation. Maybe Jackson can sort this whole mess out. After all, he did counsel the First Family in the aftermath of the President's infidelity. Mia, Woody, and even Soon-Yi, should gather with the good Reverend, join hands and see if they can't all forgive each other.
The Sakhalin Islands. If Jackson really has a preference for working abroad, these small rocks off the coasts of Russia and Japan present him with a perfect opportunity. Both countries claim sovereignty over these floating boulders, neither seems particularly inclined to back down, and no one on the planet--including the competing adversaries--cares one whit who comes out on top. Jackson should travel to the islands, exercise some Solomonic wisdom and solve this burgeoning crisis once and for all.
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