- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 23, 2002

The Middle East is churning toward its ultimate crisis. The core interest of the Western world in that region has long been to ensure a steady supply of its only resource: oil. Without this energy source, the major economies of Europe and the Far East would quickly seize up. But the events of September 11 have overtaken this concern: President Bush has been convinced that development of nuclear weapons by any one of a number of rogue nations hostile to the United States (most imminently, Iraq) coupled with the readiness and ability of international terrorists to transport such a weapon to this country and detonate it would constitute an unacceptable risk to American security.
Accordingly, Mr. Bush warned that development of nuclear weapons by Iraq, Iran or North Korea will be blocked by any means necessary. In particular, if Saddam Hussein does not consent to sweeping inspections to ensure that Iraq is not harboring or developing weapons of mass destruction (a consent he is highly unlikely to give), a military attack on Iraq will in all likelihood follow the end of our Afghan campaign.
The current trip of Vice President Richard Cheney to 10 countries of the Middle East is designed to obtain their cooperation in such an attack if possible, or at a minimum their acquiescence. Not surprisingly, the Arab rulers of these countries have told Mr. Cheney that any hope of obtaining their consent to such an operation, let alone their cooperation, depends upon an acceptable settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, whose deepening conflict has enraged the Arab populations of the region.
The need for such a settlement arrives at a most inconvenient time. The Palestinian intifada (uprising) against Israel, spearheaded by the diabolically effective tactic of suicide bombers aimed at civilians, has driven many Israelis close to despair. Originally, Mr. Bush had been reluctant to intervene. But the above-described sequence of events has apparently left him no option. Accordingly, the United States is, for the first time, seriously considering contributing American soldiers to some sort of international "peacekeeping force" that would occupy potential flashpoints in areas controlled by the Israeli and Palestinian authorities and impose peace on both sides.
Israel has long resisted such an outside force, but in the embattled nation's current desperation, this may seem the only possible solution. Perhaps so. At a minimum, it might work long enough to tranquilize the Arabs while Mr. Bush puts an end to Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq. But in the long run, posting American armed forces in Israel and the Palestinian areas, to keep them from clashing, is perhaps the worst idea in the modern history of American foreign policy.
In the first place, it would commit the United States to underwriting, if necessary with the blood of its own soldiers, the protection of Israel. Hitherto the United States has tried to play the honest broker between Israel and the Palestinians.
If we have troops on the ground, we will become the de facto guarantor of Israel's present situation, in the teeth of all Arab demands for change.
In the second place, and as a direct result, American military "monitors" will inevitably become the next targets of Palestinian suicide bombers.
The first such attacks will simply inflame American public opinion against the Arabs, guaranteeing infinitely worse relations between this country and the Middle East. But soon, as in the case of Vietnam, Washington will be asked to explain why the United States is spending the blood of its own youngsters on a squalid "civil war" far away. And that will set the stage for social tensions in this country that one had hoped were gone forever.
We had better think twice, and then think again, before we turn a fateful corner in the Middle East from which there may be no return.

William Rusher is a nationally syndicated columnist.


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