Memo To: Website Fans, Browsers, Clients
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Looking Forward
As an old editorialist, I read at least a dozen newspaper editorials every day from newspapers at home and abroad. When it comes to opinion on political events in the Middle East, I find the editorials in the Jewish weekly Forward consistently the most clear-eyed and persuasive. I subscribe to the newspaper, which is where I read these two opinion offerings in the March 21 issue (the Forward has been publishing since 1897 and now publishes both an English-language and a Yiddish edition). They do post their editorials online at http://www.forward.com. There is nothing I can disagree with in these two editorials -- one about the war in Iraq, the other about the road map to peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and much that I learned. There are rare times when I sharply disagree with their facts or reasoning, but these gems I commend.
* * * * * Our Side
As America's war machine rolled into action in the Middle East this week and humanity watched in awe and foreboding, there was no longer any denying the blunt fact that a new page was being written in world history. America, the world's sole superpower, was claiming the right to make war anywhere -- not for defense against aggression, but to prevent a possible aggression. In the name of preserving peace and the rule of law we were declaring ourselves free of the bodies of international law and peacekeeping so painstakingly built up during the last six decades by what we like to think of as the world community. The post-World War II era was finally over, and to many it seemed we were now entering the terrifying run-up to World War III.
If this is true, then it is essential to remember when and how this new era in history began. It did not begin this week, but rather a year and a half ago, on September 11, 2001. That was the day that America and the world were forced to realize that the old order was finished and done with. The crashing of those hijacked jumbo jets into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon brought home with horrific force the fact that the orderly system of nation states governed by laws and etiquette, going back more than two centuries to the battlefields and drawing rooms of Europe, was collapsing in on itself. The old order had been undermined by the emergence of shadowy terrorist networks driven by mad dreams of conquest and empowered by once-unthinkable new technologies of communication and weaponry.
There is much to criticize in the way President Bush has responded to the challenge of this new era. Many of us have argued that his view of international relations is dangerously simplistic, his approach to international alliances and world bodies too laden by suspicion. Nothing illustrates the weakness of his approach more starkly than the contrast between last fall, when the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1441 demanding that Iraq disarm, and this week, when the United States prepared to roll into Baghdad to enforce the resolution and found itself virtually alone. Even allowing for the truculence and cynicism of our erstwhile allies, it is clear that the president could and should have handled the crisis with greater skill. Facing what nearly the entire world agreed was the barbarity of Saddam Hussein's regime, it seems undeniable that the world's unity of purpose could have been maintained if someone else were leading our side.
But George Bush is leading our side. The other side consists not of Jacques Chirac, nor of John Ashcroft, but of Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden and their minions. This crisis is, at bottom, not a dispute about how best to conduct the affairs of democracy, but how to save democracy from its sworn enemies. It may still be true, as we have argued repeatedly, that war was not the right path, at least not now, not like this. But if war it must be, let us not forget which side we are on.
* * * * * Following the Map
If nothing else, President Bush's announced plan to release his "road map" to Israeli-Palestinian peace gives the lie to those paranoid theories about a Jewish conspiracy driving America into war with Iraq. According to the conspiracy-mongers, invading Iraq was supposed to upset the Middle East apple cart in a way that would leave Israel free to ignore Palestinian claims and pursue its expansionist dreams unhindered. Bush's statement, if it is sincere, points in the opposite direction: toward increased momentum for negotiation and compromise, even as the crisis with Iraq continues.
The Sharon government and its allies here were plainly caught off guard by the president's Rose Garden announcement of the road map last week. Prime Minister Sharon had thought he had a promise from the administration that the plan would not be released until after the Iraq crisis. His hope, Jerusalem insiders say, was that the defeat of Saddam Hussein would have left Arab leaders confused and divided and discredited their allies in Europe. Israel would then have been in a far stronger position to negotiate for its vision of what just about everyone -- Sharon included -- understands will be the ultimate outcome of the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation: a territorial compromise leading to Palestinian statehood.
Delay also served another interest of Sharon's: pushing for changes in the road map that make it more compatible with Israel's strategic goals. The most important of these is the issue of "sequentiality:" reframing the steps toward peace so that Israel is not required to undertake major concessions until the Palestinians have fulfilled their obligations to reform their governance and root out terrorism. The current version of the road map reportedly requires Israel and the Palestinians to act simultaneously.
What Sharon was not counting on, it appears, was the success of the European-led effort to reorganize the Palestinian Authority and reduce Yasser Arafat's power by appointing a Palestinian prime minister. The naming of Abu Mazen as prime minister-designate means that the Palestinians have taken an important first step toward reform. Israel will now face a credible negotiating partner -- not a friend, to be sure, but a man known to Israel's security establishment for decades as someone they can work with. By making their move, the Palestinians in effect have given Israel the sequentiality it asked for. That put the ball back in Israel's court. And so Bush put the next phase in motion.
It is now clear that while Sharon and his allies do have considerable leverage inside the Beltway, they are not the only team on the field. The administration has to balance Israel's goals against the very urgent needs of Britain and its prime minister, Tony Blair, who has been the administration's single most important ally in the global confrontation now underway. Blair is under enormous pressure to show his party and his public that the Iraq confrontation is not a war of the West against Islam or the Arab world. Progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front is all but universally regarded as the most credible way of making that clear.
Some friends of Israel have been arguing this week that releasing the road map would amount to sacrificing Israel in order to save Blair's skin. That is an insult, not just to Bush and Blair, but to Israel. Moving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict back to the negotiating table is very much in Israel's interest. Following the road map is a good way to do it.