- The Washington Times - Friday, August 19, 2005

“I supported the war, but not the aftermath” is a common lament about Afghanistan and Iraq. But dealing with terrorists and fanatics is never easy. We can attest to that by looking at hotspots — Gaza, Iran and North Korea — where the United States has let others handle the mess.

Indeed, we have been given a rare chance across the globe to evaluate radically different paths: Is it best to let others handle terrorists and rogue states through diplomacy and conciliation, or is American proactive intervention to prompt democracy to replace tyranny the wiser course?

There has been plenty of angry discussion over U.S. efforts and approaches in Afghanistan and Iraq, but let’s take a closer look at the situations unfolding in Gaza, Iran and North Korea.

In Gaza, the Palestinians are getting their wish for independence. Either an autonomous and lawful state will follow — or something akin to Tombstone, where Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Palestine Authority shoot it out and brag about expelling the Jews.

Either way, the choice is now in the hands of various Palestinian factions, as the United States has given up on Oslo-like prodding. The Palestinians can show the world a free Gaza is a blueprint for a stable West Bank. Or their behavior will reflect that the Israelis were simply an excuse that diverted attention from a time-honored chaos of tribalism, corruption, religious fanaticism and intolerance.

Meanwhile, ponder this recent pronouncement of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an armed wing of the Palestinian-ruling Fatah movement, about the recent voluntary withdrawal of Israelis from Gaza: “Palestine is not Gaza only, but rather, Palestine is Palestine from the [Jordan] River to the [Mediterranean] Sea.”

Then there is Iran — and its leadership’s bid for a nuclear program. Despite vast reserves of $65-a-barrel petroleum, and natural gas burned off at the wellhead, Iran apparently needs nuclear power to ensure its energy needs. Listen to what chief Iranian nuclear affairs negotiator Hosein Musavian said about Europe’s efforts to prevent his theocracy from going nuclear:

“Thanks to our dealings with Europe, even when we got a 50-day ultimatum, we managed to continue the work for two years. This way we completed (the uranium conversion facility) in Esfahan.” Mr. Musavian further boasted, “During these two years of negotiations, we managed to make far greater progress than North Korea.”

How odd. Conventional wisdom assured us Iranians would be reasonable when Europeans offered soothing words while “bullying” Americans remained distant.

So far Europe has offered Iran a joint program to build a new pipeline, help with its civilian nuclear energy agenda and a nonaggression pact, while also criticizing the United States.

Either an appeased Iran will respond by rejoining the family of nations, or it will nuclearize its missiles — thereby obtaining more concessions from Europe, threatening Israel and nearby rival oil producers, and undermining the frail democracy in Iraq.

Either way, the U.S. seems to be staying out of it, and the result will be Europe’s own diplomatic legacy.

Also without American input, South and North Korea recently jointly celebrated the 60th anniversary of their liberation from Japanese occupation. There was no mention of the U.S. contribution to their freedom. Instead, many in both countries have expressed anger at the United States for the division between North and South. Prominent South Koreans often assure us that America, not Stalinism, caused the Korean War.

Yet the current U.S. administration has shunned unilateral negotiations with Pyongyang. Instead, it has embraced the multilateral route and deferred to the South. Sometimes it seems we wouldn’t mind a South Korean invitation to leave the Demilitarized Zone altogether so it can get on reconciling with its “benign” socialist brethren to the north.

These examples of diplomacy are all in marked contrast to the military offensives of the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan. Time, as always, will determine the wiser course of action.

Perhaps a freed Gaza will become something like democratic Turkey. A responsible Iran and the Europeans may hammer out a peaceful partnership. And the North Koreans could put away their weapons and begin reunifying with the South. In contrast, Afghanistan and Iraq could descend into even more chaos, confirming the belief of many that imposing U.S. solutions on complex indigenous problems in these countries was a mistake.

Or then again, Gaza, Iran and North Korea may become the fountainheads of deadly misery well beyond their borders. Meanwhile, Iraq and Afghanistan, thanks largely to the thousands of American soldiers risking their lives to ensure elections are not derailed, may settle down to enjoy the first constitutional governments in the Middle East — in the manner that democratic Japan, Germany, Italy, South Korea, Taiwan, Eastern Europe, Grenada, Panama and the Balkans are now more stable after American resolve and sacrifices.

For now, I doubt whether Palestinians, Iranians and North Koreans will be pacified by the deference of others. Sooner or later they may well have their own rendezvous with the quiet Americans now in the shadows.

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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