- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 8, 2001

In less than a year, our region has moved from cautious hope for peace to a frightfully dizzying downward spiral of conflict. While the primary actors in this drama must bear ultimate responsibility for success or failure, the problem has been exacerbated by separate mistakes made by two American administrations.
The former administration almost destroyed the peace process by its overeager pursuit of a legacy. Its pressure for a premature settlement generated an explosive reaction. The current administration's initial talk of disengagement, however, was an opposite error, leaving a vacuum that signaled open season on the forces of moderation in both sides. State of Secretary Colin Powell's visit is a welcome sign of re-engagement, but U.S. intervention must continue at the highest levels.
Eleven years ago America led an international coalition that came to the aid of my country, Kuwait, an act that engendered undying gratitude among my countrymen and hope throughout the region. Then-President Bush proclaimed a new world order, founded on deterring and punishing aggression. But it was also founded on bringing peace to the Holy Lands, peace among Muslims, Jews and Christians. Now, the post-Gulf War capital has been squandered, peace is slipping from our grasp and the absence of that peace in my region threatens the prosperity of yours.
For the first time in decades, people in the region, particularly in the Gulf, feel forced to choose between their respect for the ideals of the United States and for the security it provides the region, and the insecurity and marginalization they feel as a result of the renewed Arab-Israeli conflict and the vacuum in American leadership. It is not in the interests of anyone who seeks peace or justice to see this cataclysm continue. It is certainly not in the interests of the Israelis and Palestinians, whose children are dying each day. It particularly runs counter to the interests of the United States, whose influence is already waning as countries in the region are strengthening their ties to Iran, calling for greater European involvement or even re-establishing ties with Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Ariel Sharon believes that Israel has its foot on the throat of his Palestinian enemy. But his focus on Israel's local military dominance ignores the wider reaction among Arabs and Muslims worldwide.
Ominously, the targets of rage are not limited to Israel, but also include the United States (regional voices repeatedly emphasize Israeli use of American weapons) and many Arabs those of us who stand for peace support democratic pluralism in the region and encourage U.S.-Arab friendship.
Even in the Gulf, hardly a hotbed of radical thought, there is growing anger. These nations, repository of 60 percent of the world's proven oil reserves, face a growing threat. Saddam Hussein's actions and rhetoric, once objects of scorn, now begin to resonate with populations puzzled by current U.S. policy. In Egypt and Jordan, which have peace treaties with Israel, popular hostility is growing. Region-wide, radicals and human rights activists alike fume at the loss of life, land and dignity suffered by the Palestinians. Theories of conspiracies against the Arabs, those old chestnuts, gain greater currency than they have had for many years.
All these elements are seething together in a stew of economic depression, unemployment and fear of globalization to produce a mood that resembles the worst of the 1950s and the 1980s. The '50s brought to the Arab world Nasserism, the Ba'ath parties, coups, rebellions and anti-Western sentiment. It took us 30 years to put those ideas to rest. The '80s produced the Iranian revolution, Mr. Sharon's Lebanon war against the Palestine Liberation Organization, anti-American terrorism and Hezbollah. A return to radical ideologies and uncontrolled violence will produce a nightmare of destabilization that will harm the interests of the United States, Israel, the Palestinians and the entire Arab world.
We need White House involvement as a neutral, honest broker. The greatest obstacle to American ideals of democracy and human rights in the Arab world is always the accusation rightly or wrongly that those ideals are applied with a double standard.
Mr. Bush should call a summit that includes not only Yasser Arafat and Mr. Sharon, but Egypt's Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah. The summit should produce a formula to enforce the conclusions of the Mitchell Commission. A good beginning would be for Mr. Sharon to pull back Israeli troops and freeze all settlement activity, and for Mr. Arafat to do whatever it takes including arresting agitators to stop the violence. But none of this will happen without direct White House intervention.
Time and again, the proven sine qua non for stability and progress toward peace in the Middle East is top-level American leadership. There can be no more talk of backing away from the region, nor can the United States be seen to take sides. Using what remains of U.S. good offices in the region is of utmost urgency. A stitch in time can save lives.

Shafeeq N. Ghabra is director of the Kuwait Information Office and professor of political science at Kuwait University. The views expressed are his own.

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