- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 11, 2002

After Secretary of State Colin Powell's mission to the Middle East fails as it is now in the process of doing all our friends and enemies will analyze it to see what has been accomplished and what has been learned. The principal accomplishment will be the rehabilitation of Yasser Arafat. The lesson learned will be that George Bush's stand against terrorism everywhere can no longer be taken seriously.

Mr. Powell was very careful to minimize public expectations. He said he would not return with a peace treaty and might not even achieve a cease-fire between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Privately, he and the president hoped that the trip would result in just that: a cease-fire for a period long enough that the campaign to topple Saddam Hussein could at least begin. But Mr. Powell failed in this even before he arrived in the region.

Before Mr. Powell left the United States, the chorus of Arab leaders was insisting that he had to meet with Mr. Arafat if there were to be any cessation of the violence. On arriving in Morocco, he was scolded by the Moroccan king who has about as much geopolitical clout as the Duchess of Grand Fenwick for going there instead of going directly to Mr. Arafat's compound in Ramallah. The Arab leaders have always demanded that America deal with Mr. Arafat on the Palestinian issue not because he is a legitimate leader but because he and the entire Palestinian population stands as their surrogate in their larger war against Israel. Most of the nations in the region Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia all support the Palestinians and Mr. Arafat directly. So long as we deal with Mr. Arafat, none of the Arab nations will ever face the problem and help solve it.

Had the president crafted a better strategy, the message delivered this week would have been that Mr. Arafat will no longer be permitted to participate in the peace discussions, and that the supposedly moderate Arab states Jordan, Egypt and others would have to accept responsibility for them. But Mr. Bush either acquiesced in or ordered a plan that begins by giving away the progress the Israelis had made toward excluding Mr. Arafat from the bargaining table. The debates about Mr. Arafat's successor were the beginning of real progress. Following Mr. Bush's plan, Mr. Powell has thoroughly cancelled all of that progress.

By agreeing to meet with Mr. Arafat, Mr. Powell has also ended any chance the Israelis had to exile him. That Mr. Arafat is a terrorist leader can no longer be seriously disputed. Information gathered at his Ramallah compound has since been used to arrest or kill dozens of the Palestinian gunmen and potential suicide bombers like those who have been attacking Israel almost daily. For this, Mr. Arafat should be exiled. By meeting with him, Mr. Powell restores his legitimacy, and makes him able to resume his terrorist activity as soon as the Israelis pull out of the West Bank region. Mr. Powell seems unable to realize that Mr. Arafat is, was and always will be an advocate of terror, not of peace.

For no apparent reason, the president has given up his demand that Mr. Arafat speak to the Palestinians and declare an end to the suicide bombings. Just two weeks ago, the president demanded that Mr. Arafat give this speech in both English and Arabic, ordering an end to the bombings and declaring a cease-fire. That was wise because the bilingual statement would prevent Mr. Arafat from doing what he has always done: preach peace in English and shout for terror in Arabic. Mr. Bush made his demand at the start of the Israeli incursion. In response, Mr. Arafat went on Egyptian television and demanded more bombings, saying that Palestinians would go to Jerusalem as "martyrs by the millions." By sending Mr. Powell to meet with Mr. Arafat before Mr. Arafat makes the bilingual call for peace, Mr. Bush has tacitly withdrawn his demand. And now Mr. Arafat has even less reason to make peace.

Mr. Bush has made severe demands on Israel to end its operations in the West Bank area. His admonitions get weaker as he makes them more stridently. He has forgotten the television images of September 11. The pictures of the rabble dancing in the streets and cheering the destruction of the World Trade Center were not filmed in Baghdad or Kabul, but in the West Bank and Gaza. We have no reason to call on Israel to stop short of its goal of cleaning out Mr. Arafat's terror network.

The president and Mr. Powell really should recall that, with the exceptions of Turkey and Pakistan, almost all the other nations in the region are cut from the same cloth as Mr. Arafat. Only a few days ago, at the latest Arab summit, the assembled nations including the supposed moderates voted for a resolution that praised and endorsed the Palestinian suicide bombings. They said, "The continuation of the Israeli occupation necessitates the continuation of the resistance as a legitimate, expected and necessary reaction." How can you even deal with people who endorse the random slaughter of women and children as "expected and necessary"? How can you expect they ever will support us in toppling Saddam Hussein? In reality, you just can't.

It is painful to write these words. After America took an eight-year vacation from responsibility, I was very proud of our new president. Never more so than on September 20, 2001, when the leader of the free world stood undaunted before Congress and said we would require every nation to choose between terror and freedom, and would regard all those who choose terror as our enemy. Something has been lost between then and now. Long ago, Winston Churchill wrote that our creed should be, "In war: resolution. In defeat: defiance. In victory: magnanimity. In peace: goodwill." We are at war, Mr. President. You would do well to re-read your Churchill. May his resolve be yours.

Jed Babbin was a deputy undersecretary of defense in the first Bush administration.

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