The Magazine

Lost in the Wilderness

Apr 22, 2002, Vol. 7, No. 31 • 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.

Set aside for a moment the amazing equivalence implied in Powell's statement: the suggestion that Palestinian terror and Israel's military response are equally to blame for the current crisis. And never mind that Powell is quite wrong in insisting that the Israeli operation will accomplish nothing. On the contrary, the Israeli military campaign, which has rounded up over a hundred known terrorists, uncovered weapons caches and bomb-making facilities, and revealed the paper trail showing how Arafat and the Palestinian Authority work with the terrorist cells, could well have a substantial impact in reducing the frequency of terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens. Will it end terrorism against Israel once and for all? Of course not, but neither will the American operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere end terrorism against the United States once and for all, as the Bush administration has repeatedly reminded us.

The most startling thing about Powell's comment is what it implied about our war on terrorism. If Israel's "response to terror" is counterproductive, does the same principle hold true for our actions against Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda, the Taliban, and others? Is our "response to terror" no solution, too? After September 11, the left said about America's war on terrorism what Powell is saying about Israel's war on terrorism: that it could never succeed, that it would not address the "root causes" of terrorism, that it would not address the anti-Western and anti-American anger that was seething in the Muslim world, that killing Islamic radicals and Afghans would only create more terrorism. Critics of President Bush's war on terrorism have been saying all along that "the response to terror is no solution." It is a sign of how lost this administration is today that Secretary Powell has unwittingly mouthed the logic of the administration's harshest critics.

The Bush administration will not find its way back out of the wilderness until it remembers the key principles of the war on terrorism. The question is not whether terrorists claim to be acting on behalf of a legitimate cause. Do the Palestinian people have legitimate aspirations? Of course they do. And Islamic fundamentalists also have aspirations which might be called legitimate. They think their countries should be run according to Islamic law. They think the West is poisoning their culture. They wish the Saudi royal family were out of power.

The question, though, is not what people want; it is what they do. If they kill innocents, if they murder civilians, if they walk into hotels and blow up Jews celebrating Passover, or if they fly passenger jets into the World Trade Center--that is terrorism. And that is what we are fighting against. Unfortunately, in the interest of currying favor with the Arab states, the Bush administration has seriously blurred the purpose, the meaning, and the justification for our war on terrorism. Instead of demanding that Israel halt its war on terrorism, President Bush should be demanding a return to clarity by his own advisers.

3. SADDAM'S VICTORY

The big winner in the current fiasco will probably not be Yasser Arafat. We believe Arafat's days are numbered as a major player in the Middle East. No, the victor right now seems to be Saddam Hussein. Thanks in large part to the administration's mishandling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict--which began with Vice President Cheney's trip to the region almost a month ago--the Arab states are much less inclined to be helpful in any effort against Iraq. Now, we've always believed that most Arab states will have no choice but to go along once President Bush makes his decision. We still believe that. But there's reason to wonder whether Bush will be wary of challenging Arab opinion on Iraq for some time. In recent days, the administration has behaved as if it is petrified of the "Arab street" and potential instability in the Arab world. Administration officials seem to have convinced themselves that "moderate" governments in Jordan and Egypt and Saudi Arabia were on the verge of being toppled--hence the sharp administration turn against Israel. We have no way of evaluating the administration's fears, but if it is so afraid of instability in those countries today, what are the chances it will risk an invasion of Iraq six months or even a year from now?

The Bush administration appears now to be operating on the theory that it must find some sort of Middle East settlement before it can make a move on Iraq. If that's the case, we should all learn to stop worrying and love Saddam's bomb. If President Bush wants to find his way out of the wilderness, he will have to drop this line of thinking. The Bush administration wanted to calm tensions in the region with the Cheney and Powell trips. Instead, they made things worse. It's time to let Israel take decisive action against terrorism, which would be consistent with the Bush Doctrine and would help clear the decks for us to go after Saddam. After three weeks of letting the Arabs shape the agenda, it is time for Bush to take charge again of his own destiny, and ours.

--Robert Kagan and William Kristol