WASHINGTON, D.C. -- According to Genesis 11, Noah's offspring built a magnificent city on "a plain in the land of Shinar." There, they arrogantly began erecting "a tower whose top will reach into heaven." Offended at their hubris, God stopped the construction by confusing "their language, that they may not understand one another's speech."
The tower was never completed, and to this day, Biblical scholars speculate about its location when work was halted. They should have searched along the banks of the Potomac.
The Bush administration, pressured by our European "allies," the potentates of the press and the pro-Palestinian leadership at the United Nations, is suffering from the same "confusion of tongues" that afflicted the Babel construction crews. Over the past month, the trickle of official commentary on the growing Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become a staccato of straggling statements from the White House, State Department and Pentagon. And last week, when Israeli and Palestinian officials began calling the current conflict "war," the ambiguity in Washington grew even worse. Now, those arguing that only the United States can prevent the current crisis from escalating into a "regional war" have placed all hope in Secretary of State Colin Powell's hastily planned trip to the Middle East.
Unfortunately, Powell's challenge has been made even more formidable by the Bush administration's inconsistent positions. It started when the United States actively supported the U.N.'s demand for an immediate Israeli withdrawal from "Palestinian territory," and an expression of "grave concern" over the "assault on President Arafat's compound." The next day, Powell cautioned Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to "carefully consider the consequences" of pinning Yasser Arafat in his Palestinian Authority headquarters.
That same afternoon, I reported on Fox News that a former Israeli government official had told me that the military operation in Ramallah had three objectives: to collect intelligence on the suicide terrorist infrastructure; to apprehend terrorist leaders and suspects; and to remove Arafat and "exile him as was done in 1982." Immediately thereafter, a "State Department official" denied that the Sharon government was considering any such thing.
On "background," reporters were told that "assurances had been made that Arafat would not be harmed, arrested or evicted." We now know that the original report was right -- and that exiling Arafat was the Israeli government's plan from the start of "Operation Defensive Wall." The State Department's denial of what everyone in the region knew only added to the cacophony -- made worse by Republican and Democrat senators calling for U.S. "peacekeepers."
Arafat, a master at playing on U.S. uncertainty, offered, from his Ramallah headquarters, to send "a million martyrs to Jerusalem." All this prompted Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to clarify our stance in his regular Pentagon press briefing, in which he observed that "terrorists have declared war on civilization, and states like Iran, Iraq and Syria are inspiring and financing a culture of political murder and suicide bombing." He concluded, "Murderers are not martyrs, targeting civilians is immoral, whatever the excuse," and reassured an already hard-pressed military that the United States was not considering sending peacekeeping troops to the Middle East.
Finally, on April 4, after more than 10 days of ambiguity, with Palestinian terrorists occupying the Church of the Nativity, Hizbollah slinging rockets into Israel from Lebanon and Arafat still defiantly promising martyrdom, President Bush took to the Rose Garden. Announcing that he was dispatching Powell to the region, he said that he expects "an immediate cease-fire (and an) immediate resumption of security cooperation with Israel against terrorism."
Hopefully, he has also privately instructed the secretary of state to abandon his notions that poverty is the root cause of terrorism. Yes, many tyrannical and oppressive regimes are poverty-stricken, but poverty has plagued mankind from the beginning. Even today, poverty-stricken Haitians are not hijacking planes or plowing them through high-rise buildings. To excuse the deep-rooted hatred of Westerners by lamenting the economic conditions in which many terrorists are raised grants undeserved sympathy to cowardly assassins. Countries that harbor terrorists deserve condemnation, not commiseration.
President Bush's Sept. 20 declaration to Congress has become muddled. In that profound address, he proclaimed, "Every nation in every region now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists."
Should we not then fully support Israel's right to rid its land of terrorists? How would we have responded if Israel expressed "grave concern" over our assault on Osama bin Laden's terrorist training camps? Or if Israel called on the United States to show "maximum restraint" as our State Department cautioned them? Let's not kid ourselves into believing that Arafat's compound is Yasser-Disney. It's not. It is a terrorist training camp.
The United States has the right -- and the obligation -- to purge the world of bin Laden and his butchers. But does our State Department believe that our common heirs of the Judeo-Christian heritage enjoy the same right?
Hopefully during his opening round of Mideast shuttle diplomacy, Powell will be able to avoid a nonstop series of press statements that will only create unfulfilled expectations, as happened with Clinton's copious curtain calls at Camp David. At this point, the less said the better. My mother used to tell us as kids, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." For the Bush administration it might follow, "If you can't say something coherent ..."