the morning after iraq

  1. 375 Posts.
    Norman Podhoretz
    Jerusalem Post, March 6, 2003

    Suppose that the U.S.--finally!--leads a "coalition of the willing" into war against the regime of Saddam Hussein.

    Suppose that victory comes swiftly and with relatively few casualties on either side (and with Israel emerging unscathed).

    Suppose that the Iraqis greet the invading forces as liberators. And suppose that those forces then uncover the weapons of mass destruction Saddam has all along denied possessing.

    I for one find this best of all best-case scenarios more plausible than any other. I also have no doubt that in the long run Iraq would turn into a far better place in every respect, and that this would set off a benevolent domino effect throughout the entire region. In the long run, too, it would leave Israel more secure.

    But where would it leave Israel in the short run?

    Twelve years ago, at the conclusion of the Gulf War, the first president Bush could hardly wait for the Iraqis to surrender before turning his none too friendly attentions to Israel. Having "persuaded" prime minister Yitzhak Shamir to stay out of the war even when Iraqi Scuds were being fired at Tel Aviv, he added insult to injury by dragging Israel into a conference in Madrid which became the first step on the road to Oslo.

    For the record, however, it is important to note that not even the first George Bush would have dared demand that Israel go as far and as fast as it did at Oslo. Neither Bush nor his successor, Bill Clinton, can be blamed for pushing Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin into shaking the hand of Yasser Arafat and then proceeding to do everything entailed by that sorry spectacle on the White House lawn.
    Certainly official Washington was delighted by this unexpected development, and certainly too Clinton was very happy to take credit for it. But the initiative came from Peres and Rabin, not from Bush and Clinton. It was a bizarre instance of Israel's fulfilling the fondest wishes of the State Department--and not in response to irresistible pressures but voluntarily and on its own hook.

    Be that as it may, the question is whether the second President Bush will try to do unto Ariel Sharon what the first president Bush did unto Yitzhak Shamir.

    The main reason for thinking that he might can be summed up in the name of Tony Blair. The British Prime Minister has been Bush's most loyal ally, supporting the president's policy on Iraq even to the point of jeopardizing his own political future.

    But Blair is an equally loyal ally of those who contend that establishing a Palestinian state without further ado is at least as important to the peace of the Middle East, and indeed of the whole world, as disarming Saddam Hussein.

    True, Blair has not signed on to the incredibly fatuous notion that the road to Baghdad runs through Jerusalem. Yet he does seem to believe that the road to Jerusalem runs through Baghdad--or at any rate that it should. Therefore he stands firmly behind the "map" of that road drawn up by the State Department with a little help from its friends in the so-called Quartet (the UN, the EU, and Russia).

    Like Bush's Secretary of State, Colin Powell, Blair wants the road map to form the basis of a new round of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians as soon as Baghdad falls.

    Now, by all accounts, it is largely, though not entirely, for the sake of Blair, and perhaps also as a sop to Powell, that Bush has persisted in seeking the UN's permission to defend the security of the United States (never mind the other benefits a regime change in Iraq would yield).

    But even apart from Bush's failure to get the Security Council's dubious blessing, going this route has exacted a heavy price. It has given the opposition both at home and abroad more time to mobilize; it has given aid and comfort to Saddam Hussein; and it has given the UN a fresh infusion of both moral and legal authority. The UN: where, to quote a characteristically forthright and pungent description by the eminent British historian Paul Johnson, "mass-murdering heads of state can stand tall and sell their votes to the highest bidder and where crimes against humanity are rewarded."

    Steep as the price of Blair's support was already proving, it rose even higher when only a few days ago, on February 26, Bush--again by all accounts to accommodate Blair--affirmed his "personal commitment" to the road map. On the face of it, there would seem to be nothing remarkable about an endorsement by the president of an operation being conducted by his own State Department. Yet Bush never before showed much, if any, enthusiasm over State's exercise in political cartography. On the contrary, one hears that in private he has dismissed the road map as unimportant. What then are we to make of this sudden endorsement?

    The bad news it conveys is that he has in all probability decided on an updated version of the Madrid Conference convened by his father at the end of the first Gulf War. If so, Israel under the Sharon government will no more be able to stay away than Israel under the Shamir government could have boycotted Madrid in 1991.

    What then can Israel do? The answer, in my judgment, is to continue clinging to a position Sharon has already adopted and to press it with even greater vigor. I am not referring to the objections he has registered against this or that detail of the road map. Rather, I have in mind his wholehearted embrace of the great speech delivered by Bush on June 24, 2002, and his calmly unshakable assumption that the purpose of the road map is nothing more and nothing less than to implement the principles contained in that speech.

    It is here that we come to the good news. For as it happens, Bush himself makes the same assumption as Sharon does, and has even fired what I would interpret as a warning shot across the bow of a slyly insubordinate State Department. Thus, in coming out so strongly for the road map on February 26, he simultaneously takes great care to define it in terms of the two big new things he enunciated eight months earlier, on June 24.

    The first of these two big new things is that American support for the establishment of a Palestinian state is strictly conditional. It depends upon the replacement of the current regime by a leadership which is "not compromised by terrorism" (June 24) and "abandons forever the use of terror" (February 26); which is dedicated to the development of a free society (both speeches); and which genuinely wishes to live in peace with Israel (ditto).

    The second big new thing is the idea that the Arab world has been using the Palestinians as "pawns" (June 24). Harking back to this idea on February 26, Bush again broadens the focus to bring the Arab states into the picture, and declares that the United States expects them "to meet their responsibilities to oppose terrorism, to support the emergence of a peaceful and democratic Palestine, and state clearly they will live in peace with Israel."

    There is no suggestion here, as there is in the State Department's road map, of a projected date for the establishment of the Palestinian state. Nor is there any room here, as will most likely be provided in the State Department's road map, for what Bush himself calls "cosmetic change, or veiled attempts to preserve the status quo" (June 24).

    In short, the State Department's road map charts a path that twists and winds its way back to another Oslo. George Bush's road map charts a path in the opposite direction, and it is one on which Israel need not fear to embark.

    Accordingly, what Israel can and should do is grapple George Bush's road map to its soul with hoops of steel.

    What Israel can and should do is denounce any and all maneuvers pretending to implement George Bush's road map but actually designed to deflect the course it traces.

    What Israel can and should do is expose the State Department's road map as just such a bag of tricks.

    What Israel can and should do is hold up George Bush's road map as a beacon and hold the United States to it.

    I say this as one who has always believed that a Palestinian state would constitute a mortal danger to Israel, and who opposed the Oslo Accords from the start. But I have also always recognized that if the day ever came when the Arab world in general, and the Palestinians in particular, made their own inner peace with the existence of a sovereign Jewish state in the Middle East, it would at last be possible to envisage the emergence of a sovereign Palestinian state with which Israel could safely live.

    The fundamental sin of Oslo--a sin known to Judaism as "hastening the end"--was to act as though this willingness to accept a Jewish state had already taken root in the Palestinian soul and could be nurtured by the waters of unilateral Israeli benevolence.

    Of this sin, George W. Bush is wonderfully free. He understands that changes of regime throughout the entire Middle East will have to be set in motion before a Palestinian state which satisfies his conditions for support can come into being. In line with this understanding, he now proposes to inaugurate such changes, beginning by force with Iraq, but extending to the other despotisms in the region, emphatically including the Palestinian Authority, through a variety of non-military means.

    Can he succeed?

    I am convinced he can--to a far greater degree than his enemies, domestic and foreign alike, superciliously assume. And if he does succeed--if, that is, he does help to create some of the essential building blocks of a transfigured regional context--the establishment of a Palestinian state will no longer represent an intolerable danger to Israel.

    But what if Bush's noble and enormously ambitious undertaking is aborted, or killed in its cradle, or hijacked at an early stage?

    In that tragically cruel case, the new hope on offer for many millions of people throughout the Middle East, not to mention the promise of greater security for the people of the U.S., will go down the drain. Down the drain as well will go the only serious chance for an end to the war which the Arab world has been waging against Israel since 1948.

    Under such circumstances, the danger represented by a Palestinian state will remain, and Israel's only viable alternative will then be to resist its creation while buying as much time as it takes for another chance--a real one, not an Oslo-like delusion--to come along.

    (Norman Podhoretz is editor-at-large of Commentary
    and a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.)
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