Jewish World Review May 21, 2002 / 10 Sivan, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | If Abu Zubaida, the al Qaeda bigwig we captured in Pakistan a couple of months ago, is telling the truth, suicide bombers could be coming to bus stops and shopping malls near us this summer.
The Arab/Israeli conflict has flared up again. Anger in the Arab "street" has diverted President Bush's attention from Iraq, where Saddam Hussein is working feverishly to build a nuclear bomb.
Synagogues are burning across Europe. A fascist made the runoff in the election for president of France. The Netherlands suffered its first political assassination in 300 years.
As a national security writer, I tend to focus on disturbing trends, and to fret about what might happen if they grow worse. There is a great deal to fret about. But I've never been more optimistic.
Two events took place last week which were inconceivable just a little more than a decade ago. The United States and Russia agreed on a sweeping reduction in nuclear arms. And NATO and Russia entered into a pact of mutual cooperation and consultation.
The news media gave these events ho hum treatment, perhaps because they are reluctant to give President Bush the credit he deserves for helping to bring them about. But their significance ought not to be understated.
More than a decade has passed since the end of the Cold War, and many of us have forgotten what we used to worry about back then. What we worried about most was World War III. A nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union was a remote - but always a real - possibility. And while a "heartland exchange" of nuclear weapons may not have meant the end of life on this planet, it surely would have meant the end of life as we know it in the United States and Russia.
Last week's developments don't mean the threat of nuclear war has vanished entirely. But they do mean the threat is much diminished.
The threats we face from nuclear terrorism are real, and serious. An otherwise bad movie released this month, the Sum of All Fears, does a realistic simulation of the devastation that would be wrought by a single nuclear detonation. But devastating as it would be, a single nuclear "event" would not mean the end of civilization. (The Sum of All Fears ends with Ben Affleck and Bridget Moynahan picnicking happily 50 miles from ground zero.) General Lee Butler, a former commander of the Strategic Air Command, put the threats we used to face vs. the threats we face now in proper perspective: "We used to worry about terrorism, too," Butler said. "But we did it on weekends."
Russia's turn toward the West also has brightened the picture in the Middle East, where the prospects for peace are now better than they have been at any time since the creation of the state of Israel. When the Soviet Union collapsed, radical Muslims lost their foremost state sponsor, and with it realistic hope of destroying Israel.
It takes Arabs some time to come to grips with reality, but Israel's crushing of the intifada should hasten the process. In a rambling speech to the puppet parliament of the Palestinian Authority last week, Yasser Arafat denounced terror, admitted to "mistakes," and promised elections and substantive reform. He doesn't mean it, of course. But the fact that he felt compelled to make the speech is a sign of Arafat's weakened circumstances.
"Dictatorial governments that start and lose wars...usually implode when the shooting stops," notes military historian Victor Davis Hanson. "So too will Arafat's kleptocracy, as the Israelis release not only evidence of his puppet strings of terror, but perhaps real proof of theft and embezzlement by high officials who subsidized splendor was predicated on thousands of their comrades remaining in squalid camps."
Arafat is yesterday's man. So is Saddam Hussein. When his vicious regime is replaced with one like Hamid Karzai's in Afghanistan, radical Islam will have lost its last best hope, and Arabs will have little choice but to turn towards peace.
Meanwhile, by making us allies against a common enemy, Osama bin Laden has
brought the United States, Russia and India closer together. Arafat won a
Nobel Peace Prize in 1994. Perhaps bin Laden should get one next
year...though I suspect it will have to be awarded posthumously.
05/15/02: If there is a way for America to lose the war, Gen. Tommy Franks can find it