Tuesday, September 23, 2003

In a recent column, the wise and often erudite essayist William F. Buckley discussed the Israeli-Palestinian crisis on which he pronounced this verdict: “Mr. Bush’s road map has evolved as a great fiasco.” But I sought in vain an answer to an obvious question:

Why has this road map and all other past “road maps” evolved as great fiascoes?

From Richard Nixon to Gerald Ford, to Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George Bush, father and son, there have been fiascoes galore. Lots of warm handshakes on the White House lawn, broad, triumphant smiles on all sides. Camp David agreements, the 1993 Oslo accords, all great TV ops for American presidents, Israeli prime ministers and the omnipresent, long-lived Yasser Arafat, a Selig with bombs, wearing his black-and-white kaffiyah and the biggest grin of all

And promises, promises, pledges, guarantees, billions and billions of U.S. dollars. Hamas and Hezbollah and their subsystems go right on with their suicide bombers, surviving Israeli counterattacks and so-called assassinations. Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas arrives on the scene and 100 days later he is an ex-prime minister.

What happened to those hopeful words uttered by President Bush after his meeting July 25 with Prime Minister Abbas? “We had a good meeting today about the way forward on the road map to Middle Eastern peace. Prime Minister Abbas and I share a common goal: peace in the Holy Land between two free and secure states, Palestine and Israel …

“Prime Minister Abbas committed to a complete end to violence and terrorism, and he recognized that terror against Israelis, wherever they might be, is a dangerous obstacle to the achievement of a Palestinian state.”

What Mr. Buckley doesn’t seem to understand is that no matter what Israel gives or pledges to give, there will be no peace now or in the foreseeable future because neither Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt or, most visibly, Osama bin Laden will permit Israel, a democratic, modern state to exist. In other words, “peace negotiations” are not about giving up the Settlements or some other fictitious issue. They are about Israel’s existence.

Does Mr. Buckley think Israel is against peace and the Arabs are for peace? Gulf war III now under way in Iraq is an Arab war to prevent another democracy from being created in the Middle East, and worst of all a Muslim democracy.

This half-century war, nominally in the cause of a Palestinian state, has poisoned the political atmosphere in this country so we have a new and respectable kind of anti-Semitism using code words like “neo-cons,” “Likudniks,” or “ex-Trotskyites” as part of the vocabulary.

Otherwise intelligent American politicians like Howard Dean, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, nonchalantly announces in a Santa Fe coffeehouse: “It’s not our place to take sides” in the Middle East conflict. We shouldn’t take sides in a war between a democracy, the only real democracy in the Middle East, against a terrorist conspiracy? Later, Mr. Dean told The Washington Post that notwithstanding Israel’s “special relationship with the United States,” America must “take an evenhanded role,” if it is to be “in the middle of the negotiations.”

Is Israel to become Czechoslovakia 1938? Are we supposed to chuckle as we recall Abraham Lincoln’s fable about the loving wife who, watching her husband locked in deadly embrace with a bear, shouted at both — “Go to it, husband; go to it, bear.”

How about not taking sides in Europe when Adolf Hitler threatened Britain so as to have been “in the middle of the negotiations”? Should Franklin Roosevelt have been cheering both sides, “Go to it, Adolf; go to it, Winston”? Not taking sides in favor of the Soviet captive nations in Eastern Europe? Not taking sides in favor of Poland’s Solidarity and Lech Walesa against the Kremlin? Not taking sides between democratic Taiwan and Communist China?

Of course, it is our place to take sides. America, historically, has always been a “take sides” country. In the interest of maintaining “an evenhanded role,” should America not have taken sides in 1991 when Kuwait was invaded by Iraq? Should America have allowed Saddam Hussein to overrun Kuwait and then become master of the Middle East, including its oil riches?

On Sunday, June 7, 1981, at precisely 6:37 p.m., nine Israeli jets destroyed an almost-completed Iraqi 75-megawatt, $275 million nuclear reactor at Osirak, 12 miles east of Baghdad. With that pre-emptive strike Israel helped make possible the U.S.-U.N. victory in 1991 over Saddam Hussein. Would the U.S.-U.N. coalition forces have dared go to war against a dictator flushed with weapons of mass destruction? Would the coalition 10 years later have risked megadeaths on behalf of the kingdom of Kuwait? Had Saddam used atomic weapons, would the Bush administration have dared use a retaliatory atomic response against the Iraqi people?

Had Israel adopted the Howard Dean policy of neutralism and allowed Osirak to come onstream, had Israel not taken sides against a dictator, the Middle East might have by now have been Armageddon minus the promised aftermath of 1,000 years of peace and plenty. Remember the 5,000 Kurds gassed to death by Saddam Hussein.

And now that it is reported (the Guardian, Sept. 18) that Saudi Arabia is considering acquisition of nuclear weapons from Pakistan, and with global concern over Iran’s suspect nuclear program the danger in the Middle East goes far beyond Israeli settlements in Gaza. Does Howard Dean understand this?

Howard Dean may be a front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination (and it would serve the Democratic Party right if he did win the nomination) but his declamations in a Santa Fe coffee shop have demonstrated a shallowness, a thoughtlessness that might have qualified him for the Vermont governorship but which surely disqualifies him as a candidate for the American presidency.

Arnold Beichman, a Hoover Institution research fellow, is a columnist for The Washington Times.

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