Jewish World Review April 30, 2003 / 28 Nisan, 5763

Jim Hoagland

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Eroding Principles | "With us or against us" was the noble rallying cry from President Bush to the rest of the world in the hour of America's 9/11 grief and anger. But political expediency, the passage of time and the U.S. military's growing postwar problems in Iraq now cloud the moral clarity that Bush both promised and demanded in the war on terrorism.

Look who's "with us" now in Iraq: American forces have reached a cease-fire with the People's Mujahedeen, an Iranian exile group with a long record of terrorism, banditry and support and direction by Saddam Hussein's regime. Under the reported terms of the capitulation, the Mujahedeen will stop fighting U.S. forces and be allowed to store much of the artillery and the antiaircraft guns they received from the shattered Iraqi regime.

This may well be a tactical maneuver that will end with the United States putting this terrorist outfit out of business for good. That would give credibility and coherence to Bush's pledges to roll back global terrorism and bring stability in the greater Middle East. Neither of those goals can be accomplished by letting this noxious group remain intact.

But the battlefield truce is the visible tip of an iceberg of contradictory pressures and promises of short-term fixes that push a moralist president back toward diplomacy as usual. Foreign policy "realism" is surprisingly resurgent on Bush's team after victory in Iraq.

The most flagrant and important compromise of the president's principles will come if and when he accepts advice from the State Department and some on his National Security Council staff to let bygones be bygones with Moammar Gaddafi. Libya's ruler has offered to pay $10 million to each of the 270 families of victims of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in return for an end to all U.S. and U.N. economic sanctions against his regime.

The outline of a deal that commits Libya to no more than an indirect, limited acknowledgment of responsibility for Pan Am 103 emerged from U.S.-Libyan negotiations in London in mid-March. Britain is eager to establish a dominant business presence in Libya and has pushed the Bush administration -- just as it pushed the Clinton administration, on even flimsier grounds -- to lift the trade bans and stigmatization that were Gaddafi's only punishment for that act of state-sponsored terrorism. The Defense Department argued strongly against that deal, which would rehabilitate a government that has built a large stockpile of chemical weapons and that has never even apologized for its extensive support of terrorism. Facing a war in Iraq, Bush put the internal debate over lifting sanctions on hold, administration sources say.

But it is surfacing again. A Libyan foreign ministry official described the terms of the $2.7 billion deal publicly in Tripoli yesterday and called for it to be implemented. The State Department can be counted on to argue again to the president that accepting Gaddafi back into the fold would weigh in America's favor on the Arab street.

This would be an exercise in self-defeating expediency that could fatally weaken international support for the president's "with us or against us" stand. He cannot practice diplomacy as usual while proclaiming an international emergency. If Gaddafi can outflank justice by using his oil wealth to employ squads of international lawyers and arrange a big-bucks no-fault settlement, terror-supporting dictators around the world will cheer.

Such expediency was often defended as realism in Cold War politics and foreign policy. It is the school of diplomacy personified by Henry Kissinger, Brent Scowcroft and, until 9/11, the current national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice. It is second nature to the State Department, which exists to make deals with foreign governments.

Bush's 9/11 appeal for a new global solidarity of morality is now threatened by the gathering return to "realism."

After Spain took the risks of seizing a North Korean ship on the high seas last year, the administration let Yemen take delivery of that missile shipment to ensure Yemen's help against al Qaeda. An even bigger bargain with the devil prevails with Pakistan, where an anti-democratic power grab and support for cross-border terrorism have been deliberately overlooked by Washington. Three Chechen groups were placed on the U.S. terrorist list as a favor to Russia. Human rights in China and Uzbekistan are forgotten subjects.

Some erosion of high principle was inevitable and perhaps even justifiable in the short term. But phony realism must not become a habit or an entrenched foreign policy reflex for the Bush team. Letting the People's Mujahedeen or Libya off the hook would represent a triumph of cynicism at a crucial moment in the war on terrorism.

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04/28/03: Wars tailor made
04/25/03: De-Baathification, root and branch
04/21/03: Victims of civic passivity
04/14/03: Three miscreants
04/11/03: Saddam's final mistake

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