The Blog

Lost in the Wilderness

From the April 22, 2002 issue: The Middle East gets worse and worse for the administration.

7:00 PM, Apr 12, 2002 • By ROBERT KAGAN and WILLIAM KRISTOL
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RIGHT NOW the Bush administration seems to be lost in the wilderness without a moral or strategic compass. This is a stunning development, for less than three months ago the president set forth a grand and clear vision for American foreign policy. We would fight terrorism and the regimes that support and harbor terrorists. We would press for freedom and democracy around the world, but especially in the Muslim world. Above all, when we saw evil, we would call it by its name. Now look how far we have moved away from those noble aspirations.

1. NEGOTIATING WITH TERRORISTS

As this magazine went to press on April 12, Secretary of State Colin Powell was in Jerusalem, where Yasser Arafat's Al Aksa Brigades had just set off another deadly bomb. This was only a day before Powell's planned meeting with Arafat. Amazingly, though it postponed any meeting for at least a day, the Bush administration still seemed inclined to have the American secretary of state meet with this terrorist leader. We don't use that term flippantly, as hyperbole, or even as an insult to Yasser Arafat. We are simply being descriptive: Arafat is a terrorist.

In recent days, the Israeli government has released documents discovered in the offices of the Palestinian Authority that show Arafat approving payments to terrorists and terrorist organizations operating against Israel. (The documents can be viewed at www.idf.il.)

One document, dated January 7, 2002, is a request for payment from the head of the Fatah-Tanzim terrorist cell in Tulkarm on the West Bank, a man named Raed al-Karmi who had publicly admitted taking part in attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians. In the document, he asks for payment to 12 Fatah terrorists under his command. The request was sent to Marwan Barghouti, head of Fatah's West Bank organization, and one of the leading organizers of suicide bombings against Israeli civilians. The document shows that Barghouti passed the request to Arafat with a note asking him "to order the allocation of $1,000 for each of the fighter brethren." At the bottom of the document is a note in Arafat's handwriting: "Please allocate $350 to each." Then Arafat's signature.

In another document, dated September 19, 2001, a senior Fatah leader asks Arafat to approve payment of $2,500 to Karmi and two other terrorists: Ziad Muhammad Daas and Amar Qadan. As the Jerusalem Post reports, Daas commands the Fatah-Tanzim cell that carried out the massacre of Israelis celebrating a bat mitzvah in January 2002. Qadan is a terrorist chief in Ramallah. Again, there is a note from Arafat: "allocate $600 to each of them."

There is more. Documents found in the office of Arafat's financial director, Fuad Shubaki, show the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades requesting funds for electrical components and chemicals used in suicide bombs. One memo is dated September 16, 2001. As the New York Times's Michael R. Gordon notes, "Suicide bombings by the Aksa Brigades began in November" 2001. Gordon also reports that Israeli military officials have uncovered significant evidence showing that the Palestinian Authority's preventive security office--which is supposed to be responsible for cracking down on terrorism in the territories--is itself linked to suicide bombings. Israeli forces discovered mortars, heavy machine guns, yarmulkes, and "other disguises for suicide bombers" in the headquarters of Jabril Rajoub, the head of the security office. A former head of the Middle East division of the Defense Intelligence Agency told Gordon that the Palestinian Authority's security office is "likely part of the problem."

Does President Bush still believe Yasser Arafat is a man with whom we can do business? Can we fight a war on terrorism while we seek to appease this proven sponsor of terrorism? The president will not find a way out of the wilderness until he finally realizes that the answer is no.

2. "THE SOLUTION WILL NOT BE PRODUCED BY TERROR OR THE RESPONSE TO TERROR."

Secretary Powell made this statement in Madrid last week. It was his way of saying that the Israeli military operation against the terrorist infrastructure in the Palestinian territories could not succeed. But its ramifications go far beyond the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.