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Jewish World Review May 7, 2002 / 25 Iyar, 5762

Frank J. Gaffney, Jr.

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When 'what if' is no game | A recent book by prominent military historians has mainstreamed "alternative history" -- a field that has heretofore been principally a passion for war-reenactors and others fascinated by what might have happened if, at critical moments, things had worked out differently. The New York Times best-selling "What If" features essays by the likes of John Keegan, Stephen Ambrose, David McCullough and Arthur Waldron that consider, for example, how differently the course of human history might have been had Alexander the Great not died prematurely, had the Spanish Armada gotten past the English fireships, had the D-Day invasion failed and the Soviet Union invaded Japan as World War II wound down.

This sort of analysis makes for interesting musing about more contemporary events, as well. It is illuminating to muse about some "what if's" in current affairs that might have influenced profoundly our present circumstances -- if only because it may shed light on decisions still to be made.

  • Let's start with an easy one: What if the first President Bush had not allowed Saddam Hussein's regime to remain in power after Operation Desert Storm? The failure to do so is now widely acknowledged by practically everyone involved to have been a strategic mistake. Just how serious a mistake it was can be seen in: the countless Iraqi lives that have been destroyed by Saddam since the Gulf War in his odious effort to build support for the ruling clique by making the United States appear responsible for post-war sanctions and his people's widespread suffering; the continuing, and growing, threat Iraq poses to its neighbors; Iraqi cooperation with and enabling of international terrorism; and the prospect that Baghdad may once again use weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

    The case can be made that, if the U.S. had ensured eleven years ago that the people of Iraq were liberated from the murderous tyranny of Saddam's Takriti clan, Iraq would today again be among the most prosperous and civilized nations in the Middle East. International sanctions would never have been imposed and the international community may have helped a democratic, representative government accomplish vis a vis Iraq's WMD programs what South Africa did when it eliminated its nuclear arsenal. At a minimum, it seems most unlikely we would be facing today an Iraqi oil embargo and the imminent prospect of resumed hostilities with Baghdad.

  • How about this: What if the Taliban -- instead of defying the second President Bush and harboring Osama bin Laden -- had agreed to start what might have been called a "peace process" involving protracted negotiations with the United States or, more likely, the United Nations? Instead of being portrayed as state sponsors of terrorism, the Taliban would have been cast as "partners for peace." Instead of being driven from power by force of American and Northern Alliance arms, the Taliban would still be brutally suppressing Afghanistan's women and oppressing the rest of its long-suffering populace.

    Terror would almost certainly continue, much of it covertly aided and abetted by Mullah Omar and his friends when they were not play-acting, for Western consumption, at being part of the "grand" anti-terror coalition. State Department specialists would, of course, insist that the United States had no choice but to stick with the peace process, however. Secretary Powell and the CIA would insist that the U.S. keep talking to and dealing with the Taliban and adamantly oppose any Defense Department initiatives aimed at dealing with the Northern Alliance, to say nothing of taking out the Taliban, in the interest of actually waging war on Afghanistan-based terrorists.

    Does this nightmare scenario sound familiar? It should. It is approximately what has been happening to Israel ever since it began an no-less-benighted "peace process" with Yasser Arafat and his equivalent of the Taliban, the Palestine Liberation Organization/Palestinian Authority.

  • Which brings us to a particularly topical question: What if Arafat had accepted the deal offered to him by Ehud Barak at Camp David in the twilight of the Clinton presidency? Given what we now know about Arafat's involvement in gun-running, terror-sponsoring and incitement of his people to violence, it seems ever clearer that Arafat would simply have used the 95-plus percent of the so-called "occupied territories" the then-Israeli government was prepared to relinquish to him to pursue his abiding objective: the elimination of the Jewish State from the rest of territory he and most Arabs consider to be occupied -- namely, all of pre-1967 Israel.

    If so, what, it might be asked, will happen if Arafat were now to get the Palestinian state President Bush has ill-advisedly committed the United States to help create? Under present and foreseeable circumstances -- that is, absent a wholesale change of heart by the Arab world -- the creation of "Palestine" will simply bring into existence yet another Islamist, terrorist-sponsoring, corruptly and despotically misruled nation committed to the destruction of Israel. The difference is that this nation would exist on territory without which Israel is essentially indefensible, giving rise for the first time since 1973 to the distinct possibility that the very existence of America's only regional democratic, and most reliable, ally could be imperilled.

    That is a "what if" President Bush surely doesn't want to contemplate -- let alone see eventuate.

    JWR contributor Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. heads the Center for Security Policy. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


    05/02/02: Careful what we wish for
    04/24/02: The real 'root cause' of terror
    04/02/02: First principles in the Mideast
    03/26/02: 'Renounce this map'
    03/20/02: The inconvenient ally
    03/12/02: Adults address the 'unthinkable'
    03/05/02: The Saudi scam
    02/26/02: Rumsfeld's 'now hear this'
    02/19/02: Where's the outrage?
    02/12/02: Post-mortem on 'Pearl Harbor II'
    02/05/02: Spinning on the 'Evil Axis'
    01/29/02: A challenge for the history books
    01/22/02: Who pulled the plug on the Chinese 'bugs'?
    01/15/02: No 'need to know'
    01/08/02: Sentenced to de-nuclearize?
    12/18/01: Missile defense mismanagement?
    12/11/01: Is the Cold War 'over'?
    12/04/01: A moment for truth
    11/29/01: Send in the marines -- with the planes they need
    11/27/01: 'Now Hear This': Does the President Mean What He Says?
    11/20/01: Mideast 'vision thing'
    11/13/01: The leitmotif of the next three days
    11/06/01: Bush's Reykjavik Moment
    10/30/01: Say it ain't true, 'W.
    10/23/01: Getting history, and the future, right
    10/16/01: Farewell to arms control
    10/05/01: A time to choose
    09/25/01: Don't drink the 'lemonade'
    09/11/01: Sudan envoy an exercise in futility?
    09/05/01: Strategy of a thousand cuts
    08/28/01: Rummy's back
    08/21/01: Prepare for 'two wars'
    08/14/01: Why does the Bush Administration make a moral equivalence between terrorist attacks and Israel's restrained defensive responses?
    08/07/01: A New bipartisanship in security policy?
    07/31/01: Don't go there
    07/17/01: The 'end of the beginning'
    07/10/01: Testing President Bush
    07/03/01: Market transparency works
    06/27/01: Which Bush will it be on missile defense?
    06/19/01: Don't politicize military matters
    06/05/01: It's called leadership
    06/05/01: With friends like these ...
    05/31/01: Which way on missile defense?
    05/23/01: Pearl Harbor, all over again
    05/15/01: A tale of two Horatios
    05/08/01: The real debate about missile defense
    04/24/01: Sell aegis ships to Taiwan
    04/17/01: The 'hi-tech for China' bill
    04/10/01: Deal on China's hostages -- then what?
    04/03/01: Defense fire sale redux
    03/28/01: The defense we need
    03/21/01: Critical mass
    03/13/01: The Bush doctrine
    03/08/01: Self-Deterred from Defending America
    02/27/01: Truth and consequences for Saddam
    02/21/01: Defense fire sale
    02/13/01: Dubya's Marshall Plan
    02/05/01: Doing the right thing on an 'Arab-Arab dispute'
    01/30/01: The missile defense decision
    01/23/01: The Osprey as Phoenix
    01/17/01: Clinton's Parting Shot at Religious Freedom
    01/09/01: Wake-up call on space
    01/02/01: Secretary Rumsfeld
    12/27/00: Redefining our Ukraine policy
    12/19/00: Deploy missile defense now
    12/12/00: Sabotaging space power
    12/05/00: Preempting Bush
    11/28/00: What Clinton hath wrought
    11/21/00: HE'S BAAAACK
    11/14/00: The world won't wait

    © 2001, Frank J. Gaffney, Jr.