Jewish World Review May 2, 2002 / 20 Iyar, 5762

Paul Greenberg

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Foggy Bottom blues | The latest word from The Washington Post is that Arabists at the State Department haven't been so miffed since Harry Truman recognized Israel despite their expert advice.

You can tell because they're leaking their complaints through the Post's Alan Sipress. His story made Sunday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette under the headline: "Powell staff/ feels alone/in position/on Mideast." We can't imagine why; they have the whole Arab world behind them.

The problem, of course, is that they don't have the president behind them. When it comes to the Middle East, George W. Bush is proving as independent as Harry S Truman.

Nor do the Arabists have much support in the Defense Department. (Don Rumsfeld, in charge.)

And the American people have been newly sensitized to the dangers of terrorism after Sept. 11, even when it's aimed at Israelis instead of Americans. Appeasing terrorists -- or any country that harbors, supports or incites them -- just isn't as easy as it used to be.

Colin Powell is the odd-man-out in this administration when it comes to the Middle East. But he's always been a good soldier and team player (he didn't get to be chief of staff because he's a loner) so he isn't complaining, at least not in the press. But the usual crowd of anonymous sources at State is.

To quote Alan Sipress, "State Department officials say Secretary of State Colin Powell has been repeatedly undercut by other senior policy-makers in his effort to break the Middle East deadlock, warning this has left U.S. diplomacy paralyzed at an especially volatile moment."

The experts at State have confused their job -- to play for time -- with paralysis. It doesn't take an expert to see what Washington is up to: It seeks to avoid a break with the Arab world while recognizing the Israelis' right to defend themselves. Hence the president's words about the Israelis'needing to withdraw even while he gives them time to cauterize as many of the terrorists' cells on the West Bank as they can.

The mantra out of the State Department about violence never solving anything sounds nice, but it flies in the face of several thousand years of human history -- and this country's own recent experience in Afghanistan.

Demanding that the Israelis negotiate with Yasser Arafat after the terrorism he unleashed against them is like urging Americans to negotiate with Osama bin Laden and the Taliban after Sept. 11.

Yet the guiding assumption at State remains that Yasser Arafat is indispensable to peace. Any look at his career, which began with terrorism and is now back where it began, might lead an objective observer to the opposite conclusion: Yasser Arafat's presence is indispensable to war in the Middle East. After sufficient prodding, he'll repeat the verbal formula required to win his release from that bunker in Ramallah, but soon enough he'll be back smuggling arms and dispatching suicide bombers.

This is no chivalrous Saladin representing Arab civilization; Yasser Arafat is a lot closer to Shakespeare's Richard III. ("I can smile, and murder while I smile, and set the murderous Machiavel to school." Recommended reading: Norman Doidge's "Evil's Advantage Over Conscience: Why the West gives Yasser Arafat endless second chances" in The Weekly Standard, April 15, 2002.

But the State Department's shaky old Middle East hands have their prize theories and aren't about to be swayed by mere facts, let alone lessons of history and morality.

And soon, thanks to American pressure, Yasser Arafat should be free to resume his bloody career. The deal is simple: He'll pretend not to be a terrorist and we'll pretend to believe him.

After Sept. 11, Americans briefly awoke to the possibility of evil in the world, but as normalcy has returned, we've begun to drowse again.

The Israelis have arrested Yasser Arafat's accomplices in terror, but are now obliged to release the terrorist-in-chief. Naturally he will promise, still again, not to sponsor terrorism, and naturally he will soon enough sponsor it.

This guy could indeed teach Machiavelli a murderous thing or two. And when still more blood flows, the experts at State can take their share of the credit. Who says they're without influence?

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