- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 5, 2003

If President Bush studies his map carefully, he’ll discover that the road to peace between Israelis and Palestinians goes through Baghdad and Riyadh.You may have noticed that shortly after the “road map to peace” was announced, there was an upsurge of Palestinian terror attacks against Israeli civilians. You may recall that the current intifada began after President Clinton and then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered a comprehensive plan — with major Israeli concessions — for creation of a Palestinian state.

There is a reason for this. The terror groups Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, Yasser Arafat’s Fatah Party, and Mr. Arafat himself do not want a two-state solution to the Middle East crisis. They want to destroy Israel.

Consequently, they seek to sabotage any measure that has half a chance of bringing about peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

It is immoral to advocate the extermination of Israel, and unreasonable to expect Israelis would consent to it. Yet liberals maintain it is Israeli intransigence, not Palestinian terror, that is the principal obstacle to a comprehensive settlement. If only Israel would make this, that or the other unilateral concession, Palestinians would trade in their suicide bomb belts for espresso machines.

This perpetual presumption, rebutted time and again by events (Israel makes unilateral concessions, and violence increases), defies logic and history as well as morality. But it is consistent with the basic liberal approach to foreign policy, which is that the United States should bully weaker friends, because it might be dangerous to confront enemies.

But vanquishing enemies, as we did in Iraq, is the only way to set the stage for genuine, lasting peace. This is why the first stage on the journey to a Middle East peace runs through Baghdad. If a prosperous, democratic, pro-Western society can be created there, the effect on the entire Arab world will be revolutionary.

My experiences in Iraq incline me to think this outcome is likely. Despite much of what you see on television and read in the newspapers, there is probably no foreign capital where Americans of any stripe are as popular as American soldiers are in Baghdad today. While there certainly are tens of thousands, and probably are hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who hate Americans and want us gone, Iraq is a nation of about 24 million people. The overwhelming majority of Iraqis — including majorities of all major ethnic and religious groups — either support the American presence in their country, or are indifferent to it.

The proof of this is the behavior of the children, who treat our troops as if they were rock stars or superheroes. Sentry posts are swarmed by smiling children. Foot patrols of a squad of eight or 10 soldiers swiftly turn into gaggles of 30 or 40, as the kids press in: “Mister, Mister, what your name, Mister? Play soccer, Mister? Bush good.”

If these attitudes persist, a decade from now Iraq will rival Britain as America’s staunchest friend in the world.

The economic prospects for Iraq certainly are good. It is the only Arab country that has both oil and water, and Iraq has, by far, the best educated populace in the Arab world. And unlike most Arab countries, Iraq could have a vibrant tourist industry. Civilization was born there. One day quite soon, tourists will be able to visit Ur, birthplace of the Jewish patriarch Abraham; the sites of the hanging gardens of Babylon and the old Assyrian capital of Nineveh, and what local folklore says was the site of the Garden of Eden.

Meanwhile, the threat made by al Qaeda against the Saudi royal family is one of the happiest developments in the war on terror, because it will force the royals to get off the fence. The Saudis have been playing a double game, professing to be a U.S. ally, while subsidizing anti-Western preaching in mosques, and funneling hundreds of millions to terror groups. Now that their own necks are in the noose, the Saudi royals may actually cooperate in the war on terror.

Terrorists cannot be negotiated with. But they can be defeated and starved of funds. Peace will not come to the Middle East until Palestinians see the benefits of peace unfolding in Iraq, and until the Saudis stop funding the groups that offer Palestinians only perpetual war.

Jack Kelly, a former Marine and Green Beret, was a deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration and is national security writer for the Pittsburgh (Pa.) Post-Gazette.

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