Jewish World Review Sept. 12, 2003 / 15 Elul, 5763
You can't make peace until the war is won
Many of us who have
admired President Bush for his amazingly good instincts in foreign policy
are now afraid that he has lost his compass. In part, this may be due
to political considerations. He may think that it's time for a pause in
the war against the terror masters, and we should therefore take a moment
for reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan, and for diplomatic reason
with Israel and the Palestinians. In all likelihood he is hearing that
he suffered politically from the military exertions in the first two campaigns
of the war, and that the American people, along with public opinion in
traditionally allied countries, want a breather.
He has also been
told indeed we have all been told, by everyone from Colin Powell
to Condoleezza Rice that the Middle East has indeed been transformed
by the liberation of Afghanistan and Iraq, and that we can now advance
the cause of freedom by less-violent means. Thus, Powell is stronger and
Rumsfeld is weaker, we are turning to the U.N. to bless our peacemaking
efforts, and even cooing in the direction of La France.
There is a certain
logic to this view, but only if you ignore the facts on the ground. As
Amir Taheri has well explained, the fall of the Taliban and the liberation
of Iraq have indeed had a profound effect on the rest of the region, but
it is not yet a fait accompli. It is a great start but not yet a great
accomplishment. The same potential existed at the end of the Gulf War,
but we threw it away by abandoning the Iraqi people and those others in
the region who dreamed of newfound freedom, in the name of good diplomacy
and sweet reasonableness. We can do it again, by making the same mistakes
George W.'s father and his current secretary of state made in 1991: stopping
too soon, and failing to support our friends and defeating our enemies.
President Bush has
said from the beginning that this is a broad war, and we will have to
fight several enemies with several strategies. Yet listening to his
speech Sunday night, one did not hear much of this. One heard about
Iraq, with a few throwaway lines about Afghanistan. That suggests a narrowing
of the administration's vision, and it is a very dangerous phenomenon,
because there are still several regional enemies with potent allies
within Iraq who know that the war is not yet over, and they are
still fighting to win. We have seen those enemies at work in Iraq in recent
weeks: big-time bombings of the Jordanian embassy and U.N. headquarters
in Baghdad, and the assassination of Ayatollah Hakim in Najaf, outside
the shrine of Ali.
Our response to these
assaults has been unsatisfactory. Instead of empowering Iraqis of proven
democratic conviction and pro-American action over more than a decade,
we turned over at least part of security in Najaf to the so-called Badr
brigades, who were trained in Iran by our enemies. Some of the Badr fighters
are working for the mullahs rather than for a free Iraq, and the Iraqi
people know that. Our willingness to strengthen our enemies sends a chilling
message to Iraqis hoping for a purge of their oppressors (why has there
still been no Nuremberg trial for Saddam's henchmen?) and an active campaign
against the thousands of terrorists entering Iraq from Iran.
The lack of action
against the Iranian-backed terror campaign is all the more perplexing
since the facts are widely accepted. Sunday's
Washington Post caught up with an excellent article
detailing plans by al Qaeda, before the liberation of Iraq, to launch
a terror war against us in Iraq. This reportage is doubly encouraging.
First, since it depends on governmental sources, it means that analysts
in the executive branch are beginning to understand the central role of
Iran in the events in Iraq. And second, it helps the journalistic community
catch up with events. Perhaps we will hear more about the Iranian campaign
(and, in time, about the Syrian and Saudi support for the terrorists)
than about the presumed vast Baathist underground, operating on its own
against Coalition forces and NGOs. There are certainly Baathists at work
in Iraq, but a good deal of their potency depends on the mullahs.
Which brings us back
to the Hakim assassination, which was an event of considerable importance.
People who grew up with Hakim, and remained in contact with him during
his years in Iranian exile, speak of a man who knew he was under house
arrest in a foreign country, who hated the mullahcracy, and who swore
that, if he ever had the chance, he would help Iraq resist the forces
of the Islamic Republic. He may have gulled the mullahs while he was in
Iran, but they recognized an enemy when they saw one, and eliminated him
as quickly as they could. As in the case of the Ayatollah Khoei, who was
killed at war's end in Najaf, the vulnerability of moderate Shiite clerics
to jihadists is terrible for the morale of religious leaders we should
be supporting and protecting.
Instead of this sensible
policy, we are piously pronouncing our evenhandedness. Our top people
in Iraq constantly repeat their official mantra: "We don't play favorites."
Thus, while Iran and Saudi Arabia are pouring millions of dollars into
the country through a network of Shiite philanthropic organizations, our
allies get little or nothing. The anti-American religious organizations
are rolling in cash, and they buy support with it, while our friends go
begging. This leads ordinary Iraqis to conclude that we either don't know
our friends from our enemies, or we don't care about our friends. Either
answer is bad for morale.
But none of this
is as alarming to our prospects for winning the war by transforming the
Middle East, as our recourse to the United Nations. Whatever our diplomats
may think, this gambit is viewed as a sign of weakness and fecklessnss
all over the region. It is viewed as a deliberate dilution of our power
and a first step toward disengagement. It terrifies our allies, and encourages
our enemies. You can be sure that the tyrants in Tehran, Damascus, and
Riyadh are now purring with pleasure, telling themselves that they were
right all along about the Americans: no stomach for a long, tough fight.
Keep killing them, and they will go home.
I have a strong premonition
of new attacks against us, at home and abroad. The Osamas and the Mughniyahs
feel vindicated, and smell blood. They will now go all-out to press what
they see as their advantage.
As for the problem
so many in the administration believe is the central issue in the Middle
East (the peace process, whatever its current label), recent events should
have demonstrated that we should devote our energies to winning the war
against the terror masters, and not waste time and effort trying to unscrew
the unscrutable. You can't make peace until the war is won. Never could,
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JWR contributor Michael Ledeen is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of, most recently, ""The War Against the Terror Masters," Comment by clicking here.
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© 2001, Michael Ledeen