First Principles in the Mideast

Posted: Apr 02, 2002 12:00 AM
One thing is for sure. The Bush Administration is going to have to come up with a better approach to Mideast policy than has been on display since Vice President Cheney toured the region last month. Neither the United States nor her vital interests can afford to have the perception persist that has set in over the past few weeks. America has come to be perceived as willing to abandon a friend, Israel -- or at least to support her piecemeal destruction. It is seen as so desperate to curry favor with latently, if not overtly, hostile Arab regimes that it will ignore behavior that is threatening or injurious to this country and/or its allies (for example, anti-American broadcasts on Saudi and Egyptian government-controlled media). And its diplomats are viewed as instruments for checking and sabotaging what President Bush seeks to do in the region. Needless to say, such impressions are as unfair to Mr. Bush as they are intolerable for the Nation. Yet, they are out there, and must promptly be rectified. In particular, corrective action is required with respect to steps taken by the Administration that have risked mortally adulterating its core message in the war on terrorism: Those who deliberately kill innocent civilians for political, religious or other purposes are terrorists. Those who harbor, train, support or legitimate their activities are to be treated in the same way as the terrorists. And, to the extent that such terrorists and their state-sponsors have a "global reach" -- and virtually all those operating in the Mideast do (whether as a result of their financial networks, their strategic alliances, their attacks on Americans, etc.) -- they are enemies of the United States. The truth is that Yasser Arafat qualifies as such a terrorist. His central objective is to create a state of "Palestine" over all the territory that he considers to be occupied by Israel (namely, the entire West Bank, Gaza Strip and all of pre-1967 Israel). This vision -- expressed in a universally used map (myriad examples of which can be viewed at the Center for Security Policy's web site, -- is identical to that of Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad. With each passing day it is becoming more and more difficult to sustain the fiction even that Arafat's tactics amount to anything other than a "good cop-bad cop" routine as organizations explicitly loyal to him (notably, Fatah, Tanzim and Al Aqsa Brigades) stake competing claims with Hamas, Hezbollah or Islamic Jihad for the most recent, murderous attacks on Israeli civilians. These developments require a return to first principles by the Bush Administration, entailing the following policy adjustments: First, the United States must stand with Israel -- a fellow democracy and close ally whose losses along its front (which now means practically everywhere in Israel) in the war on terrorism greatly exceed on a per capita basis those experienced by the United States on September 11. The President made the right first step in this direction with his declaration last Saturday that Israel has a right to defend herself. Now it behooves his Administration to stop inveighing against the Jewish State when it does just that. Far from endearing itself to the Arabs by distancing this country from or weakening Israel, the United States is encouraging them to believe that an exploitable gap has emerged between the Israelis and the Americans. In the past, this has translated into regional war and may well do so again. At the very least, this practice breeds contempt for the United States. For nations who already have doubts about the United States' reliability from previous, hard experience with its efforts to unseat Saddam Hussein, who would want to align themselves with such an ally against him this time around? Second, Arafat must go. His demise, political if not physical, will not bring about an immediate end to terror attacks, even those being orchestrated by his organizations. But it is a necessary precondition to such a step. And the war on terrorism cannot be successfully prosecuted, in the Mideast or elsewhere, as long as the United States is legitimating, to say nothing of treating with, one of its principal perpetrators. The question, of course, occurs: Who will succeed Arafat? The answer is that no one knows, in part because, like most dictators, he has not allowed an heir-apparent to emerge. It seems likely to be an improvement either way, however: If the next leader is an unabashed terrorist, there will be less international opprobrium associated with Israel's efforts to defeat him. If, on the other hand, he represents those Palestinians who are genuinely prepared to coexist with Israel, the Jewish State may finally have a partner for peace with whom it can safely deal. Finally, the Administration must speak with one voice. President Bush has been badly served by those -- particularly in the State Department's Near East Affairs (NEA) Bureau -- who disagree with his convictions about Israel and the war on terrorism. Their idea of putting U.S. forces in the middle of this conflict is sheer lunacy. Mr. Bush urgently needs to place someone who shares and advocates his views in charge of the Mideast portfolio at the policy-coordinating National Security Council, not someone detailed from NEA and loyal to its Arabist agenda. By rooting his policies towards the Mideast in such principles and practices, Mr. Bush has a chance of restoring coherence and credibility to the U.S. approach to the region. To be sure, doing so will not necessarily earn him the plaudits of the foreign policy and media elites. But as their prescriptions, especially with respect to the "peace process," have been responsible in no small measure for the perilous situation Israel and the United States now face in the Middle East, it is time to give a try to a strategy embraced by this President elsewhere in the war on terror, as Ronald Reagan did before him: "Peace through strength."