- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 8, 2001

Secretary of State Colin Powell's trip to the Middle East was a mixed bag. His call to "re-energize" sanctions against Saddam Hussein by making the arms embargo more effective was summarily dismissed by the Iraqis.

The administration policy on Iraq, once formulated, will need considerable heavy lifting. The Powell plan must go beyond the Clinton administration's failed containment policy. The major obstacle to the Bush administration's Iraq policy is the effort on the part of Saddam to link the plight of the Iraqi people with that of the Palestinians. The aggressor, Saddam Hussein, claims to be a victim. The Arab media and propagandists exploited the Powell trip as proof the United States is the aggressor and Iraq is the victim. The Iraqi people are held up as victims of the U.N. sanctions, when they are in fact victims of Saddam's ruthless and violent dictatorship.

According to the March 2 Financial Times the new United Nations weapons inspection group that replaced Unscom, called Unmovic, has produced a classified document recording the continued buildup of Saddam Hussein's arsenal of missiles, biological and chemical weapons. Iraq is producing mustard gas and the shells that deliver it. "Iraq's research into viruses including polio, influenza, foot and mouth disease, the camelpox virus, infectious haemorrhagic conjunctivitis virus and rotavirus was also worrying."

The debate over an American policy toward Iraq has just begun, while the policy is incomplete. The more hawkish members of the administration Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and the newly appointed Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz believe American policy must concentrate on bringing an end to Saddam's Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). In view of the report mentioned above, it is critical that the U.S. take all actions possible political, economic, diplomatic and military to successfully complete regime change, which Mr. Wolfowitz writes is the "only acceptable policy." He said sanctions are only one of several policy options to bring upon this necessary change. It is unrealistic to believe Saddam Hussein will change his behavior.

Mr. Powell was more successful with the new Israeli government, which embraces the administration's regional strategy. Mr. Powell made it clear that the Barak-Clinton "parameters" and principles are no longer valid and that he has no intention to micromanage the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He bluntly told Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat that negotiations can begin once violence ends. The administration position is that negotiation and violence are not compatible.

Also, Mr. Powell tried to put pressure on Mr. Sharon to alleviate the economic strangulation of the Palestinian Authority. Mr. Sharon was not persuaded. The Israeli argument is that Mr. Arafat's multimillionaire fat cats and his corrupt entourage have milked the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority, and that they should return the money to the people thus relieving the economic conditions in the Palestinian Authority.

Mr. Powell also asked that Mr. Sharon remit to the Palestinians the tax money collected by the Israeli authority. Mr. Sharon's advisers argue that they have no reason to send money to the people who are shooting at them. This issue is still open, but Foreign Minister-designate Shimon Peres said he has some creative ideas for overcoming the economic plight of the PA.

Israeli intelligence sources dispute the PA claims of bankruptcy. The Sharon government is demanding that Mr. Arafat end recruitment of radical Hamas prisoners into the PA military force before any tax payments are made.

The Likud-Labor National Unity government represents Israel's national will. The primacy of diplomacy buttressed by security must prevail. The Barak concessions did not lead to cooperation. On the contrary, it led to violence that has not ceased for six months.

Mr. Sharon's government must cautiously tread between aggressive reaction to Mr. Arafat's promise to increase the intifada and the continuation of peace. In other words, security must be related to Israel's image in the international community, and especially in its relations with the Bush administration. A daunting task.

Mr. Arafat will do his best to heighten the violence, while posing as Israel's victim, so he can bring his CNN and other allies in the European Union to his aid. It is sad indeed that all of the violence is aimed at returning to where Mr. Barak and Mr. Arafat left off in their negotiations.

The appointment of Labor hawk Benjamin (Fouad) Ben-Eliezer as defense minister-designate represents Mr. Sharon's security policy. Mr. Ben-Eliezer was quoted in the March 3 New York Times as saying: "The rules of the game must be clear to the Palestinians. There has to be a continuous and consistent policy in Israel of striking at the terrorists and their masters, and this policy must hold until the Palestinian leadership understands that the only fighting it can do is across the negotiating table."

The carrot-and-stick policy will replace the one-sided concession policy. Mr. Sharon and Mr. Peres both Ben Gurionites are aware that Israel's security is paramount, but also know that negotiations and peace are necessary. Therefore, new, less ambitious modalities will replace the moribund Oslo.

The Bush and the Sharon administrations face the serious problem of how to calibrate security with diplomacy. Both insist on using all instruments available to the state to persuade their rivals to change their behavior. Success is more likely with Mr. Arafat, who is totally dependent on American good will, political and economic support, without which the Palestinian Authority is dead. This is not true in Saddam's case, however, where leverage has proved futile for eight years.

Amos Perlmutter is a professor of political science and sociology at American University and editor of the Journal of Strategic Studies.


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