Prophecy is difficult, especially with respect to the future, said Mark Twain. And after the president's speech to the annual dinner here of the American Enterprise Institute -- Politburo of the War Party -- the question remains unanswered: What course does the United States intend to pursue, after U.S. tanks have rolled into Baghdad?
As for war itself, that decision has been made. The United States intends to invade and occupy a nation that has not attacked us, to reshape its society, rebuild its government, and redirect its foreign policy to reflect American ideals and serve American interests.
Imperialism, pure and simple. Though President Bush declares our aims to be altruistic -- liberation of the people of Iraq from the grip of a brutal dictator -- this war is already seen in Arab eyes as a war of American empire.
Aware of the seething resentment in the Islamic world, Bush sought to send a signal to Arab capitals and the Arab street. He indicated that he still believes in a "viable" state for the Palestinians, he accepts the land-for-peace formula of the Oslo Accords and that, if terrorism ends, Israeli settlement-building on the West Bank also must also.
In short, Bush seemed to be telling the Arab world that the West Bank does indeed belong to the Palestinians and must become the heartland of a Palestinian state.
But how does he intend to realize his vision and reshape the Middle East?
In part of his speech, the president seemed to be saying that after the liberation of Iraq, the peoples of Middle East will see, and seek out, the fruits of freedom.
Ariel Sharon and the War Party, however, have a less Utopian idea, and it does not rely upon example alone. After Saddam is ousted, they want U.S. ultimatums handed to Syria, Iran and Libya, ordering them to surrender their missiles, chemical and biological weapons, and nuclear programs, or face a U.S. attack.
Yet, in neither tone nor words did Bush endorse the Sharon Doctrine. What this portends is a fierce debate in this city, and a new struggle inside the War Cabinet, for control of the direction of U.S. Middle East policy once the Iraqi war is over -- a struggle that will run right into the presidential year of 2004.
Here are the contending forces and clashing ideas.
The War Party rejects the Oslo Accords as suicidal folly for Israel. It rejects the Camp David plan brokered by President Clinton, the Barak Plan and the Saudi Plan, which calls on all Arab states to recognize Israel if Israel returns to its pre-1967 borders. It holds that the way to peace between Palestinians and Israelis is by smashing Arafat's PLA and all the region's regimes that are urging the Palestinians to fight on until Israel agrees to pull out of all lands occupied since 1967.
It believes the only secure peace for Israel is the peace of the sword, a peace dictated by a victorious America and Israel to a chastened Arab world
Sharon was first elected on a pledge to ditch the Camp David and Barak plans. His new cabinet contains militant Zionists who consider the West Bank sacred Jewish land. They will not give it up. They will not permit Jerusalem to become the capital of a Palestinian state even if Bush, triumphant in Iraq, tells them it must be done. They will fight him as they fought his father. And they will have the War Party in their corner.
The other course that will be pressed on Bush is the course his father took in 1991. After Kuwait was liberated, Bush I kept his word to his Arab allies, and brought the Israelis to a Madrid peace conference and tried to use the leverage of U.S. aid to halt the building of Israeli settlements. For this, Bush I was excoriated by Israeli zealots as an anti-Semite, and he set off a firestorm in the Israeli Lobby and the Congress of the United States.
Bush II believes that firestorm hurt his father badly in 1992.
Where will this President Bush go after Baghdad? If he seeks to pressure Israel into what the Israeli Right and the War Party think are premature and foolish negotiations, he will court a savage backlash in an election year, and fail. If he embraces the Sharon Doctrine and puts military pressure on Syria and Iran, he will do so without Tony Blair, without NATO and without U.N. backing, and he will be seen worldwide as the leader of a rogue superpower.
The Powell Doctrine -- get in, win, get out and come home -- may, by year's end, have real appeal for a by-then beleaguered President Bush. For his problems do not end in Baghdad, they only begin there.