- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 28, 2001

Secretary of State Colin Powell went into the Middle East with a bang and came out with a whimper. The strike first, negotiate later tactic only works if the message remains consistent during both actions. Mr. Powell's was not. By bombing Iraq, the Bush administration aptly told the Arab world that the United States would no longer sleep while Iraq develops weapons of mass destruction and threatens Israel, and that it cared that Iraq's neighbors were looking the other way. Now it is calling for sanctions on Iraq to be eased and has put pressure on Israel to open its borders while still under fire. One wonders what vision Mr. Powell had on the road to Damascus.

Is this the same man who stood in Washington earlier this month saying that without the U.N. inspector's verification that Iraq had stopped developing its weapons of mass destruction, sanctions would not be lifted? Read his lips: "Let the inspectors in, and we can get beyond this … Until (Saddam) does that, I think we have to be firm. We have to be vigilant and I will be carrying this message to my friends in the region."

Not only did his "friends" not get this message, but he is returning with a detailed plan of how the United States can best bow to pressure from the Arab world: Sanctions could be lifted on up to 1,600 contracts for the sale of civilian goods to Iraq. This could even be extended to some items that could be used for military purposes. His Middle Eastern "friends" told him this was "the right thing to do," that he had no other options. Such a carrot has had no influence on Saddam. An Iraqi delegation at the United Nations has said inspectors will not be allowed to return under any condition. Now Saddam could have the best of both worlds fewer sanctions and the glory of watching his former foe back down under pressure.

Saddam was given more than one reason to celebrate during the Powell tour. While the secretary of state was busy learning how he could reverse policy on Iraq, he also gave Israelis a slap in the face: He proposed they pay the $54 million in taxes owed the Palestinian Authority and open their borders to the Palestinians whom Saddam wants to aid in a holy war against the Israelis. Now, the Israelis weren't asking for much in order to comply with Mr. Powell's wishes for them to be softer on the Palestinians: A call from Yasser Arafat to stop violence, an effort to stop anti-Israeli media propaganda, and a renewal of anti-terrorism ties between Palestinian and Israeli security agencies. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon wasn't even demanding that all violence stop, just a signal from the top aggravator that he would put pressure on his men to stop their fire would have been nice.

If Mr. Powell was trying to renew a friendship with an old ally through these actions, Israel wasn't impressed. Neither were the Arab countries who saw him speak out of both sides of his mouth. The Bush administration needs to come up with a consistent policy on the Middle East before the laughter from the Persian Gulf becomes deafening.

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