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Jewish World Review
April 26, 2004
/ 5 Iyar, 5764
Mideast instability? Bring it on
In the summer of 2002, Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League, issued a stern warning to the BBC: a US invasion of Iraq would "threaten the whole stability of the Middle East." As I wrote at the time, "He's missing the point: that's the reason it's such a great idea."
I thought about Mr. Moussa a lot recently. I was invited to speak at the United States Naval Academy's foreign affairs conference, a great honor for a foreigner. I wasn't the star attraction that was Condoleezza Rice; I was merely a warm-up act.
Anyway, I was struck by a phrase in Dr. Rice's address that I don't believe I've heard her use before. She was talking about the fourth plane on September 11th, Flight 93, the one that crashed into a field in Pennsylvania en route to destroy either the Capitol or the White House. If it had reached the latter, that would have been the "money shot" that day, as it was in the alien-invasion flick Independence Day the center of American power reduced to rubble. What happened on 9/11, said Rice, was an attempt to "decapitate us." If not for quirks of flight scheduling and al-Qaida personnel management, the headlines would have included "The Vice-President is still among the missing, presumed dead" or if they'd got really lucky that the presidency had passed to the president pro tem of the Senate, octogenarian West Virginia Democrat, porkmeister and former Klansman Robert Byrd.
In other words, if you're wondering why this administration's approach to terrorism is so focused on regime change, it's because the terrorists came so close to changing America's regime.
They've since managed to change Spain's. So why should the traffic be all one way? About two weeks after 9/11, I came to the conclusion that almost anything was better than Moussa's much-vaunted "stability." The fetishization of stability was a big part of the problem. Falling for the Moussa line would give us another 25 years of the ayatollahs, another 35 years of the PLO and Hamas, another 40 of the Ba'athists in Syria and Iraq, another 70 of Saudi Wahhabism. Even another 20 years of Mubarak doesn't have anything to commend it. All stability means is that the most malign Middle Eastern tyranny Saudi Arabia has wound up being the wealthiest and thus is able to export its toxins around the world, via the madrassas it has built in Pakistan, South Asia, the Balkans, and North America.
Washington apparently reached the same conclusion that anything was better than the status quo. Or, as Thomas Friedman put it in The New York Times this weekend, "President Bush has stepped in and thrown the whole frozen Middle East chessboard up in the air."
That's why Moussa is so discombobulated. The Arab League (set up in a typically devious move by the British which, just as typically, backfired on them) was the preeminent body of regional stability. Its most recent meeting, scheduled to be held in Tunis, had to be scrapped because of irreconcilable divisions between the old-school thug regimes and the more enlightened members who wanted better relations with America and Britain.
Now it's the EU Arafatists' turn to be discombobulated. In supporting Ariel Sharon's planned Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, President Bush said last week it was time to recognize "realities on the ground" and "unrealistic" to expect a return to the armistice lines of 1949.
What this means is that, after half a century of formal neutrality on the issue, the US has stated the obvious: The "sensitive issue" of the Palestinian "right of return" is sensitive mainly because it's a lot of hooey that's never going to happen.
Tough, but that's the reality on the ground. There is no point entering into negotiations predicated on not disturbing the fantasies of one side.
I've never been to Gaza, but I have mooched around the West Bank and, compared to such nascent nations as Slovenia or East Timor, it's all but impossible to detect evidence of any plausible nationalist movement. Everywhere you go, you see the glorification of the martyrdom movement and the Jew-killing movement, and evidently those are such a hit that Palestinian nationalism has withered in their wake, except insofar as when all the Jews are gone, what's left will by default be Palestinian.
Ariel Sharon has decided that one cannot negotiate with a void, a nullity and even sentimental European Yasserphiles might, in their more honest moments, acknowledge that the only way the Palestinians are ever going to get a state is if they're cut out of the process. So the Israelis are building their wall, and what's left over on the other side will either be a new state, the present decayed Arafatist squat, or an ever more frustrated self-detonation academy. But it will be up to the Palestinians to choose because they'll be the ones living with the consequences.
BUSH HAS gone along with Sharon because it accords with his post-9/11 assessment of the Middle East: The biggest gamble can't be worse than Moussa's stability. Indeed, the Israeli government's new Hamas Assassination-of-the-Month program usefully clarifies the bottom line: A high rotation of thugs is better than the same thug decade in, decade out. Poor Rantissi, killed this weekend, seems unlikely to get the glowing send-off from European obituarists they gave to his predecessor, the "revered quadriplegic spiritual leader," Sheikh Yassin. Already, bigshot terrorists in Gaza are said to be reconsidering their applications for next month's vacancy.
That's the bottom line elsewhere, too. If all else fails, then a modified Sam Goldwyn philosophy will do: I'm sick of the old despots, bring me some new despots.
But it won't come to that. In Iraq, Libya, Iran, Syria, and elsewhere, the old Middle East is dying, and what replaces it can only be better.
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JWR contributor Mark Steyn is senior contributing editor for Hollinger Inc. and the author, most recently, of "The Face of the Tiger," a new book on the world post-Sept. 11. (Sales help fund JWR). Comment by clicking here.
© 2004, Mark Steyn