Rumsfeld Misinformed on the June '67 War
Jude Wanniski
August 13, 2002


Memo To: Secretary of State Colin Powell
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Your colleague's erroneous assumption

You may not have noticed, Mr. Secretary, but the nice rally on Wall Street began last week within minutes of the report that President Bush was going to consider all options, including diplomatic options, in dealing with Iraq. Of course, a diplomatic resolution of the Iraq problem would be wonderful for the U.S. and the world economy, while war would be just awful. It was thus nice to read in Bob Novak's column Monday that GWB decided to broaden his approach after meeting with you last week at his Crawford ranch. Novak wrote:

The influence of Powell and Armitage is most important. Their war hawk critics have been spreading rumors that they are on their way out after two years. In fact, their meeting with the president explaining the pitfalls of an Iraq attack was productive. In Madison, Miss., last Wednesday, Bush declared: "I promise you that I will be patient and deliberative, that we will continue to consult with Congress, and, of course, we'll consult with our friends and allies."

Powell and Armitage, who normally do not spend much private time with the president, are described as having walked Bush through consequences of a unilateral U.S. attack with little support from European allies and hostility from moderate Arab states. Their meeting followed the effective visit of Jordan's King Abdullah. He made clear to Bush that though few tears would be shed over Saddam's eventual demise, an American attack on an Arab state should not be launched amid Israeli-Palestinian bloodshed.

It's good that you are able to lay out all the problems associated with a military intervention, Mr. Secretary. If you are going to succeed in getting Iraq back on a diplomatic track, though, I think you have to persuade Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld that the President is serious about his commitment to a Palestinian state. Iraq and the Palestinian problem are inextricably linked, as you well know, yet Rumsfeld not only pretends they are not, but also gives every public indication he disagrees with the President on a commitment to a Palestinian state.

In a Sunday NYTimes op-ed, "A White House in Search of a Policy," Martin Indyk noted that in an August 6 press briefing at the Pentagon, Rumsfeld "seemed deeply equivocal about a Palestinian state when he said that, in his lifetime, 'there will be some sort of an entity that will be established.'" Indyk was ambassador to Israel in the Clinton administration. In that same briefing, Rumsfeld made the argument that Israel won the West Bank and Gaza fair and square in the 1967 war. Here is how he put it: "My feeling about the so-called occupied territories are that there was a war. Israel urged neighboring countries not to get involved in it, once it started. They all jumped in and they lost a lot of real estate to Israel because Israel prevailed in that conflict."

Mr. Secretary, you know that is not at all what happened in 1967, when Israel decided to send its army into the West Bank, Gaza and the Sinai at the same time it sent its air force to destroy all 450 airplanes of the Egyptian air force on the ground. Back in '67 we all thought that Israel did what it did because its Arab neighbors were poised to attack. It was years later that I discovered there was no such plan to attack, which is why it was so easy for Israel to win that war "fair and square" in six days. Very few Americans who were thinking about the '67 war when it happened have gone to the trouble of finding out that the Israeli government saw an opportunity to occupy that land, in accord with the vision of the original Zionists, who believed all that "Promised Land" was promised to Jews, not Arabs.

From his casual comments about how Israel "urged neighboring countries not to get involved in it," Rumsfeld clearly believes what you and I were led to believe back when it happened. If he has read anything recently on the long-ago background to the conflict, it surely was supplied by his senior civilian staff, all of whom are passionately committed to the Israeli point of view and to war with Iraq. There is a new book out by an Israeli historian, Michael Oren, which rehashes an old report of an Egyptian contingency plan for war with Israel. There were, of course, tensions between Israel and Egypt at the time, over Egypt's closing of the Strait of Tiran, but the record is plain that the Egyptian vice president was on his way to Washington to seek a diplomatic compromise via the Johnson administration when Israel decided to pull the trigger. Your counterpart at the time, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, wrote in his memoirs that "we had a good chance to de-escalate the crisis," but the Israeli attack ended that:

We were shocked and angry as hell when the Israelis launched the surprise offensive. They attacked on a Monday, knowing that the Egyptian vice-president would arrive in Washington to talk about re-opening the Strait of Tiran. We might not have succeeded in getting Egypt to re-open the strait, but it was a real possibility.

This is reminiscent of Ariel Sharon's decision three weeks ago to bomb the home of a Hamas leader in Gaza after he learned the Palestinian terrorists had voted a unilateral cease fire. The Jewish weekly Forward suggested this was done on purpose, by a man who does not want a peace process that might lead to a Palestinian state. Then as now there were a hard core of Israel fanatics who wanted all the land, not just what they were given of the Transjordan by the 1948 U.N. mandate. In a recent poll of Israeli Jews, 70% said they favored a two-state solution to the current crisis. But, the far-right Likud Party is at the intellectual core of a "Greater Israel" resolution -- in which the Palestinians get some sort of "entity," as Rumsfeld puts it. It may be that Rumsfeld has been so indoctrinated by his intellectual mentors, Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, that he is now firm in his belief that there can be no Palestinian state. On that score, you might suggest to him that because the President has as his goal a Palestinian state, Rumsfeld might put aside his own personal views and be a good soldier about it.