I listened to President Bush’s latest Mideast speech with the faint hope that he would finally articulate a reversal of his depressing double standard toward Israel. The first half was promising. Then the other shoe dropped.
“Terror must be stopped. No nation can negotiate with terrorists. For there is no way to make peace with those whose only goal is death … Since September 11th, I’ve delivered this message: everyone must choose; you’re either with the civilized world, or you’re with the terrorists.”
So far, so good, but then came the moral equivalency part, aimed at pacifying the terrorist thugs rather than striking fear in their hearts: “I ask Israel to halt incursions into Palestinian-controlled areas and begin the withdrawal from those cities it has recently occupied … I’ve decided to send Secretary of State Powell to the region … he will work to implement … an end to terror and violence and incitement (and the) withdrawal of Israeli troops from Palestinian cities.”
The main reasons most Americans have agreed that President Bush has risen to greatness since 9/11 are his moral clarity in identifying evil and evildoers, his resoluteness of purpose and his leadership in eradicating terrorism as an ever-present and paralyzing threat. From President Bush there had been nary a shade of ambiguity until the flare-ups began again in the Middle East.
When suicide bombers killed 26 people late last year, President Bush issued a statement endorsing Israel’s right to defend herself, but then immediately dispatched Colin Powell to lecture that “It’s important all parties consider the repercussions” of their actions. I got whiplash listening to those two statements back to back. And it won’t heal because the administration has continued this doublespeak since then; the president’s speech yesterday triggered a re-injury.
There is no moral equivalence between the terrorists’ actions and Israel’s defense. Unless you accept a redefinition of “terrorism,” Israel has engaged in no terrorism; it has tried not to kill civilians and it has commissioned no suicide bombers to kill Palestinians.
When you listen to President Bush’s statements on Israel it is hard to believe they are coming from the same man who has been so masterfully leading our war against terrorism. How can you say in one breath that no nation can negotiate with terrorists and in the next say that you are going to send your secretary of state to negotiate with terrorists?
And don’t tell me that presidents have to take action in the Middle East because that’s just what all presidents have done. Yes, they have all bought into the seductive notion that Middle East peace can be achieved through talk, through negotiating with terrorists and based on the promises of liars and murderers. Despite all the Nobel Peace Prizes dispensed like candy, we haven’t had peace. But we have had broken promises and the repeated killing of noncombatant, innocent human beings.
Even worse, President Bush’s decision to send Secretary Powell comes on the heels of even more heinous suicide bombings. Is that to be Arafat’s reward for a job well done?
If there were any likelihood that peace could be achieved through verbal exercises alone we would be immoral not to attempt it. But in the current context we are embarking on a path reckless not only to Israel, but to our own cause against terrorism.
Hair-splitters and sophists argue unpersuasively that there is a difference between Israel and America’s struggle against terrorism. But they are inseparable both in theory and practice.
We are not only kindred spirits with Israel, fighting the same type of enemy. We are fighting an identical enemy. Fox just reported that 30 al Qaeda fighters were on the ground assisting the Palestinians, and we know that Saddam Hussein has just upped his financial rewards for families of the bombers.
I know that for logistical reasons alone it would be nice to have the support of as many Arab states as possible against terrorism, but it simply isn’t going to happen -- especially when they won’t even recognize that terrorism is wrong. The overwhelming majority of Arab states refuse even to acknowledge the moral depravity of suicide bombings. Besides, gaining their support isn’t worth the cost, since the cost may well be our national soul.
We would do well to remember that our war on terrorism is being fought not just with troops, military hardware and intelligence. It is being fueled by a spirit of national unity born of the manifest justness of our cause. We are perilously close to losing that spirit because of our interminable hypocrisy toward Israel. If we lose our spirit, we lose our unity, and I shudder to think what that means for our war against terrorism and the future quality of life for our children. The anti-America crowd in this country waits in the wings for the opportunity to capitalize on our imminent disunity.
We can only avert that fate by speaking again with one voice, unencumbered by the illusions of some ephemeral diplomatic panacea.