- The Washington Times - Monday, June 9, 2003

In a classic Zen story, the great master Joshu, while still a student, returned to his monastery from some errand to find that the house cat had been killed by the abbot. It was explained to him that an argument had arisen between several of the novices as to who owned the cat and the abbot intervened, demanding, “If one of you can make a true statement about this cat, he will own it; if not, the cat dies.”

The young students looked at each other in desperate silence, and sure enough, the abbot drew a sword from beneath his robes and killed the cat. At the end of the tale, while still entering the gates of the monastery, Joshu smiled slightly, took off his sandals, put them on his head, and kept walking. The abbot, who had been observing from his residence unseen, whispered to his attendant, “Too bad Joshu wasn’t here. He could have saved the cat.”

On Friday, just two days after the heady triumph of President Bush’s summit with Prime Ministers Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas, it appears the cat may well be dead. Hamas, acronymic for Islamic Resistance Movement, has not surprisingly declared its rejection of the cease fire proposed by Mr. Abbas as a first step on the way to the road map to peace. The president’s whirlwind Mideast trip was obviously intended to separate the good from the bad in the region, as well as in the diplomatic community. In the language of diplomacy itself, “no foreign ministers were in attendance.”

Whether you have noticed it or not, a new civil war has been raging in this country. Not with muskets and canister, not at Bull Run or Gettysburg, but in the executive branch between those who believe in old fashioned, outmoded bribe, buy, spy and assassinate diplomacy, and those who see the United States finally in a position to take its place as moral exemplar and guiding star to the rest of the world. And as this internal struggle rages, as we lose focus and direction, as we did in those crucial months of indecision prior to the start of the Iraq war, our enemies perceive our weakness and grow bolder as a result.

The Middle East is a land of smoke and mirrors. Truly nothing is as it seems. Hamas was the result of a brotherhood of last resort between drop-kicked Arafat guerrillas in Lebanon, and Hezbollah—the Iranian-style ideologues who control Beirut at the behest of Syria. And Hamas has begun to conduct “operations” jointly with the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, a branch of Fatah, Yasser Arafat’s original terrorist PLO. By June 7, the Associated Press had already described Fatah as “Abbas’ ? movement.” In a year, this will be unchallenged boiler plate truth.

When “moderate” Arab leaders meet with the president — as when Mr. Arafat speaks in English rather than Arabic — a certain set of values and expectations are reflected. But other realities surface when other perspectives are involved. Each and every Arab state present at the Tuesday summit in Cairo was either a hereditary kingdom or a military dictatorship of long duration. This is hardly consistent with our expressed goal of democratization in Afghanistan and Iraq, nor does it bode well for our intentions as to the road map, itself. Self-determination in the region may not turn out the way that either the Departments o f State or Defense would like. “Cooperation” on the part of “moderate” Arab leaders may well be nothing more than self-preservation at American (and Israeli) expense.

But it is Islamic fundamentalism — call it Khomeinism, the Taliban, al Qaeda or any of dozens of names world-wide — which is the real danger. This is the reason we endured 10 years of Saddam after the Gulf War. This is why young men are willing to charge into machine guns or blow themselves to pieces over religious abstractions. But unless Mr. Bush is willing to walk into Jerusalem with his shoes on his head, I predict there is very little hope that he’ll find a live cat when he gets there.

Frederick Grab is a former California deputy attorney general.

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