- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 5, 2001

In Argentina, as South America's second-largest economy is on the brink of collapse, the government has limited the public's right to draw cash from their bank accounts. Argentines will probably not see their life savings again, while Western banks and Third World economies brace for the largest default of any country in history.

In Taiwan, the newly and overwhelmingly re-elected President Chen has taunted and enraged the Beijing government by demanding that the mainland government "respect the choice of the Taiwanese people." The Beijing leaders, who loathe Mr. Chen and his Independence Party, could well react by creating an incident or a crisis in the Taiwan Straits.

In Tora Bora, Afghanistan, U.S. and British troops close in on what may be Osama bin Laden's lair. Will he go out with a bang or a whimper? In any event, the White House has put the nation on the highest terrorist alert. Is the third time the charm?

Earlier this week, our government felt compelled to identify Iran with which we have been trying to establish an anti-Taliban modus vivendi as a major financial backer of the Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas. This announcement follows persuasive testimony in Washington last week that Iran is only three to five years away from having a ballistic missile-deliverable nuclear weapon.

And, oh yes, for the first time in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle, events have forced the U.S. government to, in essence, give Israel the green light to unleash full righteous fury against her adamantine and murderous Palestinian interlocutors.

As the Holy Land descends to war, the nervous regimes in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the other feudal Persian Gulf states abate their collective breaths waiting to see if this seemingly (from the Arab perspective) American-sanctioned Israeli war will be the dreaded spark that inflames their oppressed populations.

The recent, incipient sense of a return to order and control inspired by our splendid military successes in Afghanistan and the absence of further acts of terror in America is quickly being dashed. The world increasingly looks like a gunpowder warehouse strewn with smoldering, interlaced fuses. Nothing better illustrates the seemingly uncontrollable march of history than the events in Israel.

After months of insistent requests from Saudi Arabia and Europe, President Bush started actively pushing for a Middle East peace by announcing at the United Nations that the state of Palestine should come into existence. He followed that up with the dispatch of Gen. Anthony Zinni as his special peace envoy to the region.

The general's arrival was cynically greeted by a crescendo of horrifying Palestinian terrorist assaults on Israel, to which a previously restrained Israeli government could no longer fail to powerfully respond. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon very reasonably cited as justification for Israeli military action to Mr. Bush his own correct assertion that America would go after the September 11 terrorists and the states that support them as well as all other terrorists with global reach.

In a desperate effort to avoid the final plunge into Middle Eastern war, Mr. Bush firmly put the onus on Mr. Arafat to "find and arrest" the terrorists. Thus, in an instant, our government was forced to a place it has carefully avoided for two decades requiring Mr. Arafat to establish, by his measurable actions, whether he was willing and able to control Palestinian terrorism, and thus whether he is a credible party to a peace negotiation. Almost certainly, Mr Arafat will fail to prove the affirmative of that proposition.

He is unlikely to even make a sincere attempt. Events in the last 72 hours suggest that if he does, he will probably provoke a Palestinian civil war. Many of his 50,000 policemen are as loyal to the terrorists as they are to him there is a difference. Col. Abdullah Daod, head of Palestinian intelligence in Bethlehem, has reported that his policemen "hesitated" to obey his orders to make terrorist-related arrests.

The Palestinian Authority announced a ban on carrying weapons, demonstrating without a permit or issuing propaganda in mosques. But in Nablus, demonstrators ignored the ban with impunity. In Gaza, Hamas militants conspicuously fired their Kalashnikovs in the air. In the Deheisha refugee camp in Bethlehem, dozens of Palestinian police and intelligence agents sent to arrest militants were easily turned back by an angry gathering of gun-toting demonstrators.

If Mr. Arafat pushes the matter, Palestine will collapse into anarchy or civil war. If he doesn't, Israel will act on its cabinet finding this week that the Palestinian Authority is "an entity that supports terrorism" and do so in compliance with the Bush doctrines anti-terrorist principle that such entities may be militarily replaced, as the United States is doing with the Taliban.

While Mr. Bush's performance to date has been faultless, and we will surely prevail in the end, it would seem that every player from Mr. Bush and Colin Powell to the basest street thug is being driven by fate and circumstances to join what the late Barbara Tuchman called history's tragic "March of Folly."

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