- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 4, 2001

All signs of U.S. military buildup for an attack in Afghanistan against Osama bin Laden point to a repeat of the U.S. invasion of Panama, when Secretary of State Colin Powell was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the elder Bush administration. This will be a meticulously planned effort, involving the complicity, if not the active assistance, of neighboring countries such as China, Russia, Iran, India and Pakistan, as well as key Arab countries such as the Arab Gulf States led by Saudi Arabia.

Expect an intense effort of the U.S., NATO and international intelligence organizations to first locate Osama bin Laden, which should not take many more days. A sighting will be followed by a military strike overwhelming Taliban resistance to capture or to kill bin Laden and the leaders of his al-Qaeda organization. President Bush's comment that he will not launch a $2 million cruise missile to destroy a $10 tent indicates the anticipated Taliban and bin Laden defenses that U.S-led forces may expect. The United States will not so much invade and occupy Afghanistan as mount a posse to take bin Laden, dead or alive, leaving the Afghans to sort out life without bin Laden.

This will be Noriega and the Panama invasion all over again. Of equal significance, it will find Mr. Powell switching hats for all intents and purposes to assume a de facto military leadership in the operation. Planning a staged program of military action is a hallmark of the retired four-star general. We can be sure that he will at least edit, look over the shoulders and tailor the operation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the Joint Chiefs.

So far as we know, Mr. Powell will become the first secretary of state actively involved in the planning and execution of a U.S. military operation. While that new role may achieve another flawless military victory for Mr. Powell for despite his detractors, he has one of the best military minds in the world it may not bode well for future U.S. policy. If we were to tally losers and winners in this historical episode, the losers will clearly be bin Laden and al-Qaeda, but we will have to include among the losers, Israel's influence on U.S. Middle East policy and American air travelers.

Israel loses because the assistance of Arab and Muslim countries to the Bush administration in stopping bin Laden will come with a steep political price, in which Israel's strategic interests have been weakened as a U.S. trade-off to purchase Arab support. The week before the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the U.S. warned Mr. Powell that U.S. political support in the Arab world was at its historical lowest. In the past several weeks of the latest intifada in Palestine, of daily lopsided casualty figures of Palestinians and Israelis in favor of the Israelis, general Arab perception has been that the United States was biased in its role as mediator between Israel and the Palestinians.

A successful campaign to stop bin Laden and reward Pakistan and other Muslim countries for their assistance against terrorism will depend on a restoration of U.S. influence in Arab countries. Since there is no diplomacy like money diplomacy, Pakistan's rulers will be the first winners. With the lifting of U.S. sanctions against Pakistan for developing offensive nuclear weapons, Israel loses because Pakistan's nuclear technology ends up for trade among other Muslim League nations. That some of those nations in a position to purchase Pakistani nuclear missile know-how, notably Libya, Syria, Sudan, Iraq and Algeria may be linked to terrorist organizations, can only add to Israel's problems.

In any event, the Bush-Powell anti-terrorism diplomacy in the Muslim and Arab world will be bought at both a financial and political price for Israel. Ostensibly our policy tilt to Arab moderates will lead to an honest role for the United States in brokering a Palestinian state and Israel's security. It ought, at the least, to mean a reduction of Israel's freehand in dealing arbitrarily with the Palestinians without regard to the wishes of Arab moderate states like Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Our policy will also lead to more complicated and difficult travel for airline passengers around the globe for many years to come.

This generation of Americans was just getting used to more expensive and more unreliable airline travel before Sept. 11. Now it will find added costs of our Bush-Powell Middle East and Asian anti-terrorism diplomacy. And the new policy will not only effect our pocketbooks. It will be fraught with unknown but certain new strategic dangers.

Carl Senna is the author of "Colin Powell: A Man of War and Peace."

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