I’ve been cruising Internet chat rooms lately, and I’m amazed what some Americans are advising Bush to do on foreign policy. On Arafat: “Nuke ’em,” “Give ’em two in the hat,” or just plain, “Kill him.” On Iraq and Sadaam: “Nuke ’em,” “Give ’em two in the hat,” or just plain, “Send in the Marines.” And so it goes. About the Middle East, the advice is always the same – a bullet, a bomb or a Daisy Cutter.
What do these writers see that Bush doesn’t? I thought I’d ask you, my readers that question. So I am going to do a little role-playing. Here’s a pretend scenario – one very close to reality. Think about what you’d do in grappling with what is perhaps the most complex foreign policy issue of our time, if not of all time.
You’re the president. It’s Easter weekend and you’re looking forward to a few days of prayer, family and relaxation. But you know that it’s different this year. The reason is the war. Three thousand fellow citizens were murdered when the World Trade Center collapsed. U.S. troops are in some new places this year – Afghanistan and the Philippines. In your view the first phase of the war has gone well, but the mopping up continues. Abroad, American lives remain at risk. At home, it is Condition Yellow.
Suddenly, an aide hands you a note. A Palestinian suicide bomber walked into an Israeli hotel and blew himself up, killing 20 innocent civilians and wounding hundreds. This is different than past suicide bombings – it takes place on Passover and also at the same time the Arab League met to approve a promising Saudi Arabian peace plan. This act, linked to Arafat, was clearly intended to provoke Israel in an effort to kill the peace plan.
Then the phone rings. It’s Prime Minister Sharon. “Mr. President,” Sharon says, “we cannot allow this attack to go unanswered. We must respond.” He proceeds to outline a comprehensive plan for temporarily reoccupying the West Bank. It involves tens of thousands of troops and hundreds of armored vehicles. Many on both sides will die. But Sharon insists he has no choice. You don’t agree.
You convene an emergency Cabinet meeting. The Treasury Secretary says that the country is finally emerging from recession. If the U.S. response triggers another oil embargo, unemployment will skyrocket and the economy will sink. Saudi Arabia still dominates the oil market, and the president must be cautious. The Saudi royal family is feeling besieged by Islamic fundamentalists. If Arab protests intensify, the Saudis might consider an oil embargo.
But then the vice president reminds you that the administration is publicly committed to anti-terrorism. How can America ask Israel to restrain itself when the U.S. did no such thing after terrorists struck New York and Washington? What would taking this position do to American credibility? Some Americans are saying that the Israelis are also pouring gasoline on the fire by adding settlements in the West Bank.
But then a ranking Pentagon official chimes in. He reminds you that the goal of U.S. policy is bringing down Saddam Hussein. If the U.S. sides with Israel, won’t otherwise friendly Arab countries deny America the use of important military bases necessary to attack Iraq? You remember your father’s experience a decade earlier during the Gulf War – sometimes, you think, we need people we don’t like.
But the bad news is just beginning. The director of the Central Intelligence Agency reads a note just handed to him. On Israel’s border with Lebanon, Hezbollah terrorists have begun to mass. The director states that Hezbollah is controlled by Iran and Syria; it only acts with the consent of those two countries. He adds that Syria, believing that Israel is distracted on the West Bank, just might attempt to reoccupy the Golan Heights, which Israel captured during 1967’s Six Day War.
How would Israel respond, you ask. The reply is quick: “Send F-16s to hit Syria.” He adds that Iraq might then be tempted to lob some scuds against Tel Aviv, just as it did in 1991. What then? And what of the Iranians? You believe that Tehran’s mullahs are weak domestically and have been supplying the PLO. They might be tempted to intervene. And what then?
What if Iraq attempts to invade Israel through Jordan? And Syria moves on the Golan Heights? And Hezbollah on the northern border?
You know Israel has nuclear weapons. Its very existence might be at stake, but to use them would be worldwide disaster.
You decide to send a high level delegation to the Middle East, but the delegation asks, “What do we do, Mr. President? What? What? What?”
Somehow, I don’t think “Two in the hat” is the answer.
Find out the truth about Arab-Israeli conflict in “Battleground: Fact and Fantasy in Palestine.”