closeness of the U.S. presidential vote suggests strongly that the
next president will have very little even resembling a mandate to
conduct foreign affairs. That lack of a mandate might prove a blessing
if it is used to reassess current commitments and announce prudent
steps to reduce US vulnerability to violence and conflict in other
parts of the world.
the most fruitful areas where this could work is in the Middle East.
An announcement from a new president would have to be couched in
careful diplomatic language of course, and surrounded by assurances
that the United States is still strong, still brimming with resolve
and still committed to being involved in the rest of the world.
Itís just that right now domestic political considerations demand
more concentration, so that the United States will be better prepared
to lead the world in the event of a genuine crisis.
the Middle East, two issues would yield beneficial results if so
handled: the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the UN embargo
very idea of peace in the Middle East, of course, became even more
remote this week. Ironically, the renewed violence on Monday followed
news stories suggesting that on Sunday clashes in the West Bank
and Gaza strip had quieted a bit amid talks of a possible new U.S.-brokered
summit meeting after a statement from Palestinian Authority Chairman
Monday, however, a school bus full of children from the Israeli
settlement of Kfar Darom in Gaza was hit by an explosion from a
mortar shell rigged with metal shrapnel, activated by three people
who fled. Two adults were killed and six children severely injured.
Hours later Israeli helicopters and gunships hit Palestinian Authority
targets, including power stations in Gaza, with gunfire and missile
strikes. At least 40 people were admitted to hospitals but as of
late Monday there were no deaths.
talked to Ted Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign
policy studies at the libertarian Cato
Institute. The latest incidents, he says, "confirms again
that little steps toward cooperation on peripheral issues canít
bring a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. Eventually you hit
a wall with one of the big, emotional issues like the status of
Jerusalem and the process turns to violence with startling swiftness."
EVIDENCE OF THE RHETORIC
have no crystal ball. All I can do is read a lot, call people, ask
them questions and listen carefully to what they say and how they
say it. In doing this about the Middle East over the years, Iíve
come to the conclusion that rhetoric matters. The two sides know
one another well and know just what buttons to push. They know how
to make demands they know will be rejected if theyíre not in a mood
for a settlement this month, and how to couch their demands in rhetoric
more likely to be accepted on the other side if theyíre interested
in a short-term agreement.
observation, from talking to Israelis and American Muslims, is that
this weekís bombing and retaliation have been surrounded by the
kind of rhetoric on both sides that bodes ill for a peace settlement
or even a cease-fire in the near future.
people in the Israeli consulate in Los Angeles told us Monday that
they were convinced the attack on the school bus was carried out
by "Tanzim," a term Israelis use to describe a militant
faction of Yasser Arafatís Fatah party.
with many Israelis, the consulate workers believe Yasser Arafat
could stop the violence or a substantial portion of it if he really
wanted to. They believe Arafat is using violence as a fallback because
negotiations werenít going in his favor.
BLAMES ARAFAT AND VICE VERSA
Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak told reporters that "The
attack itself is, in our eyes, the direct responsibility of the
Palestinian Authority. Thatís why we acted today with power against
the Palestinian Authority target in the Gaza Strip."
leaders were hardly in a mood to apologize. The Palestinian Authority
said, in an official statement: "The Palestinian leadership
holds the Israeli government and Israeli army fully responsible
for this criminal aggression" and called on outside forces
the United Nations, the United States, Russia, the European Union,
China, Japan to intervene to stop the "barbaric attacks."
Asfour, a Palestinian cabinet minister, went further, saying that
"These strikes are a reaffirmation that the Israeli government
is a government of killers and has chosen war as a path to implement
its policies." Mr. Asfour continued that "The killers
Ö will pay the price," mentioning Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister
Shlomo Ben-Ami and army chief Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz by name.
both sides believing the other side could stop the violence and
willing to use such provocative rhetoric, it is hard to imagine
them sitting around a peace table civilly attempting resolution.
A cease-fire and eventually a resumption of negotiations will probably
happen. But itís difficult to see them coming any time soon.
fighting resumed Sept. 28, about 240 people have been killed, mostly
latest tragedies reinforce the unwisdom of the recurring desire
by some US officials to force a peace under American or U.N. auspices.
was fine for US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to deplore
violence on both sides. But to imagine that if only the United States
can push hard enough from behind the scenes and make enough promises
of aid to both sides it can eventually pressure unwilling parties
to negotiate together looks less and less realistic.
tragic. But at this stage of history, thatís reality. The incoming
president would benefit, perhaps even profit from acknowledging
is and declaring that with the problems he will face bringing Americans
together, it is best just now to let events on the ground play out
before offering to function again as an honest broker for an Israeli-Palestinian
accord. He could also make it clear that when the time comes, the
US will function only as an honest broker, not as the designer of
a peace package the folks in Foggy Bottom think is best.
might even mention that when the time comes the United States will
not finance he doesnít have to say "bribe" the two parties
in the implementation of peace. We want a genuine peace when those
in the area want it, when they see advantages in pursuing it without
having to be subsidized. That could even be spun into a diplomatic
triumph, which the incoming president with no mandate could use.
the news media continue to explain the distinctions (if any) between
dimpled and pregnant chads, other foreign policy issues could help
to to form a backlog that the new president might have to deal with
sooner rather than later. The lack of a mandate, however, just might
dictate that the next president be more prudent and sensible than
previous presidents have been.
Iraq. Saddam Hussein has been a most satisfactory all-purpose villain
for the Clinton-Gore administration, as he was for the previous
Bush administration. But the messy aftermath of the Persian Gulf
war, once the proudest moment of the senior Bushís presidency, seems
to be unraveling quickly. Discretion suggests that the next president
jump to the head of the parade before it leaves without him.
United States is said to have won the Gulf war, and on the field
of battle the rout was rather complete. But Bush officials ended
the ground war once the Iraqis had been pushed out of Kuwait and
chose not to pursue Saddamís forces to Baghdad. Since then there
has been an ongoing low-intensity conflict, featuring mostly US
and British forces enforcing an embargo declared by the United Nations
and enforcing a "no-fly-zone" in parts of Iraq with daily
combat aircraft patrols and sporadic bombing. US Navy ships ply
the Gulf, occasionally coming in to harmís way.
GOAL, NO GLORY
goal of these activities remains murky because insofar as there
is one it is unattainable. It should be clear by now that inflicting
economic harm on the people of Iraq through an embargo will not
drive Saddam Hussein from power; indeed, the embargo probably reinforces
his power. The likelihood that more pressure will force Saddam to
allow UN weapons inspectors back Iraq is also low.
weekend Peter Hain, the British Foreign Office Minister responsible
for the Middle East, told the Times of London that he was seeking
a way to get the embargo ended, perhaps through convincing the Iraqi
government to allow something that can be described as UN weapon
inspections. Mr. Hain said the "only vehicle" for getting
"the sanctions suspended so that everything can move forward"
is UN Security Council Resolution "1284, which in return for
allowing inspectors back would trigger within months, literally
within 180 days, sanctions suspensions."
Hain is both responding to recent events and echoing opinion in
most of Europe. France has criticized the ongoing embargo. Commercial
airline flights to Baghdad have not resumed, but planes fly in from
Europe and from other Arab countries almost daily. Some trade has
resumed with Iraqi neighbors. Like most embargoes, this one is breaking