In the end, it all comes down to Bush, and his prioritiesIraq is the litmus test of American resolve
Palestine regains its importance, especially given the U.S.'s rough position with Iran By Edward S. Walker, Jr.
Wednesday, December 29, 2004
The American election and the return of President George W. Bush to the White House will not change the character of the difficult problems we face in the Middle East. Nothing that Bush said in the campaign or in the aftermath of his re-election indicates a substantial change in American policy. While there will undoubtedly be some new faces around the cabinet table, the fact is that for the last few years we have been following Bush's game plan - not the Cheney or Wolfowitz plan, and certainly not the Powell plan. Bush now has a clear mandate from a majority of Americans for his strategy - a mandate that will stretch out at least until the mid-term elections two years hence.
In Iraq, the Bush objective continues to be democracy. Regardless of the difficulties and the costs, the president exudes confidence that his vision of a democratic state in the heart of the Arab world is attainable. Anyone who thinks that the president would settle for some kind of papered-over, face-saving, Vietnam-style retreat, leaving Iraq to a restored dictatorship, fragmentation or the chaos of a civil war hasn't been listening. So the U.S. and the international community had better get used to the idea that this will be a protracted and difficult fight that the administration has to pursue relentlessly despite external or internal second-guessing and pressure.
In reality, we do not have any other option. Like it or not, Iraq has become the litmus test of American resolve. To waiver now, or to be seen in any sense to be backing away from our commitment, would be a massive victory for terrorism. The message we sent in Vietnam, Iran, Lebanon, and Somalia was that if you make the Americans bleed, they will retreat. We cannot afford, in this day of Al-Qaeda and international terrorism, to send that message yet again in Iraq. Such a message would swell the ranks of the terrorists and embolden them. Iraq may not have been linked to Al-Qaeda before our invasion, but it most certainly is today. And it is inside Iraq that Bush has to make his stand if he is to rebuild American credibility and discredit terror as a political vehicle. Iraq, as the president's foremost priority, is where Bush will have to continue to invest American military might and spend American capital.
In Iran, Bush faces a perplexing problem. He has made it clear that a nuclear-armed Iran is "unacceptable," but his options for dealing with this problem are not very attractive, largely because his stand in Iraq, and to a lesser extent in Afghanistan, leaves him with no credible military stick.
While some Pentagon planners may be considering air attack options for the U.S. or by a surrogate Israel, it is by no means clear that the proliferation threat can be effectively destroyed or delayed by air - similar attempts by the Clinton administration in Iraq proved fruitless.
Covert efforts to destabilize the Iranian regime do not appear to be any more realistic, nor would they likely remain covert. No single event would trigger the strong nationalism of the Iranian people and preserve and extend the rule of the ayatollahs more than an American attack - except possibly an Israeli attack. Of course, the ayatollahs are not without weapons of their own. Their long border with Iraq and influence therein can exacerbate problems for Bush inside Iraq. And their control over Hizbullah and its terror capabilities could be another recourse.
No one I know, here or in Israel, underestimates the danger to us and to Israel of an unleashed Hizbullah. So it would appear that Bush will need to keep pressing for a Europe-based compromise solution with Iran that is less than ideal, but has a chance to prevent Iran from operationalizing its nuclear capability.
To do this, he is going to have to consider the carrots he is willing to part with to make the deal more attractive while he induces the Europeans to brandish bigger sticks.
Bush has to look at his problems in the region as being inextricably linked and will have to have a very clear sense of priorities and timing to succeed. That is why Bush may now turn to the Palestinian issue as a way to enhance his position against the growth of terrorism, his leverage with the Europeans, and his need for a positive outcome in Iraq. Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's death opens new doors for the Palestinians, the Israelis, and Bush. If the U.S. and Israel play it smart, we can lend credibility to a new leadership which adopts a commitment to real reform and opens the way for measured movement on the "road map." Mahmoud Abbas does not have the credibility nor constituency yet to be the partner for peace. But if he is seen to deliver a deal on the Sharon plan for evacuating settlements that serves basic Palestinian interests (through American encouragement and Israeli compromise), then he will gain in stature and strength and become the partner that Arafat never was and never could be.
Author: Edward S. Walker, Jr. is president of the Middle East Institute. He has served as assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, and as ambassador to Israel, the Arab Republic of Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates, and deputy permanent representative to the UN.
Disclaimer: Assertions and opinions in this article are solely those of the above-mentioned author and do not reflect necessarily the views of the Middle East Institute, which expressly does not take positions on Middle East policy
Walker is quite wrong here.
Israel's F16 strike on Osirak in 1981 put Saddam Hussein's nuclear weapons program offline for decades.
Clinton's wasting hundreds of cruise missiles to delay the December 1998 impeachment proceedings in the House were intended to distract from and delay action on his individual transgressions, not to deter the Hussein WMD capability.
What the Iraniacs need is a thousand JDAMs.
As for Walker's blather about Bush's supposed preoccupation in Iraq, horse droppings.
He's been listening to Ted Kennedy's karaoke numbers whilst sporting panties on the head, waving a quart of scotch at the audience.
We'll be doing the Islamic tango with B-2 Spirits, not Humvees with or without armor and embedded pantalooned reporters in lighter-than-air loafers.
After the innauguration, it's clobberin' time.
And now we hear from one of the contented polygamal harem: