The fog of war

Posted: Jun 08, 2003 12:00 AM

 Here in Washington, there’s a lobbying group for just about every cause you can think of. But not for those who are anti-peace. Why?

Because there really isn’t anyone who is anti-peace. If you’re doing something in the name of peace, almost everybody wants to support you.

That can be a good thing, but it can also lead to “The Fog of Peace.” That’s a new twist on an old expression. “The Fog of War” means those fighting in a war are unable to see most of the difficulties all around them. With “The Fog of Peace,” people get so caught up in the idea of peace that they can’t see the problems and threats all around them.

Consider the recent debate over the war in Iraq. During the months-long troop buildup, many accused the Bush administration of warmongering. One correspondent e-mailed me in March: “How many people are about to die for this oh-so-just-war?  300,000 to 500,000? Nothing like slaughtering hundreds of thousands of people just because we can, right?” In the New York Times, columnist Nicholas Kristof urged Washington to consider “containment” for Saddam Hussein.

But many of us favored the war in Iraq because we believed it would promote peace. Properly understood, peace is not merely the absence of war. It means actual freedom and opportunity for people.

Under Saddam Hussein, Iraq was a violent and dangerous place. Independent human rights groups estimate Hussein’s government executed as many as 300,000 people over the last 20 years. The mass graves we’ve uncovered support that.

So by overturning a tyrant, we created a situation that may bring real peace. Fighting opened
the door for peace. Peace that would never have come under Saddam.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, the Israelis and Palestinians are following a “roadmap” to peace.
It replaces the failed Oslo agreement, which was itself supplanted by the violence of a second Intifada.

In a meeting with President Bush on June 4, both sides said all the right things. But the proof is in they do next. Will the leaders take the difficult road toward peace? Or was it all just talk?

One country that’s talked a good game about peace is Syria. And that talk recently enveloped Washington Post columnist David Ignatius in the “Fog of Peace.” On June 3 he wrote that Syrian President Bashar Assad should, “embrace the full legacy of his father, who for all his tough talk came within inches of closing a peace deal with Israel.”

Ignatius says the late Hafez Assad expected to sign that agreement in March 2000. It would have included a complete Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, a critical piece of real estate captured by Israel during the 1967 war. But Assad backed out at the last minute when President Clinton offered less than a complete Israeli handover of the Golan.

“U.S. and Syrian officials agree that the modifications the Israelis wanted in 2000 were trivial and not worth busting the accord,” Ignatius writes. Oh? Then why did Papa Assad walk away so quickly, if he was really interested in peace? He could at least have opened talks with Israel. Instead he walked away, and Ignatius blames Israel for destroying a deal Assad probably never intended to sign.

And even if he had signed, would that really have moved the “peace process” forward? Ignatius goes on to suggest that, “As a gesture of good faith, the Syrians should immediately withdraw to the Bekaa Valley, as they were supposed to do two years after the signing of the 1989 Taif Agreement.” In other words, Syria has been in violation of a peace agreement since 1991. That’s 12 years and counting.

Why should Israel, or anyone, believe the Syrians are really interested in striking another deal, if Damascus ignores deals it made more than a decade ago? And why would Ignatius conclude Syria could be interested in peace? Simple: Because they say they are, and he wants to believe them.

True, lasting peace is a worthy goal, one we should all work toward in the Middle East and everywhere else. But true peace is based on actions, not mere talk. Let’s make sure that when the fog clears, we’ve forged a true, lasting peace, not a false one that will dissolve into more violence.