TCS Daily

Who's 'Serious About Peace'?

By Greg Buete - July 5, 2002 12:00 AM

"I don't have any use for Saddam Hussein. But I think you have to ask yourself in what order do we have to do this. [Hussein] has no missiles to put warheads on that could reach us.... [Even the Kuwaitis] "thought the United States was on another planet, talking about attacking Saddam Hussein when we were not involved in the Middle East peace process at the time."

So said former President Clinton during a recent New York City Yale Club speech. During the speech he advised the Bush administration to concentrate on achieving peace in the Middle East before going after the dictator in Baghdad. This is a popular view these days.

But Clinton failed to consider why the Arab community obsesses over the Israeli/Palestinian conflict while at the same time stubbornly refusing to address Hussein. By not asking this question, Clinton extrapolates an incorrect conclusion based on incomplete logic.

The first reason the U.S. should pursue an end to the current Iraqi regime even before brokering a settlement between Palestinians and Israelis is because we can. Despite arguments of logistics and coalitions, the U.S. (for now) has more control over the Hussein problem than the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Better to address Hussein before he acquires nuclear weapons and significantly complicates matters.

Conversely, the U.S. has limited influence in the Middle East. The U.S. has had limited success persuading Israel or Arafat to do exactly what we want. Militarily, Israel is independently strong enough not to succumb to every whim of the State Department. As for the Palestinians, judging by the number of suicide attacks against Israel, either Arafat cannot control terrorists or Arafat chooses not to control them. And the U.S. has no influence over militant groups such as Hamas, Hizbullah, and Islamic Jihad.

And what of motives? Did President Clinton ever stop to think that the Arabs understand they can delay an attack on Iraq by exacerbating Middle East violence? Why would Iraq and Saudi Arabia, who are hardly friends, be united in an effort to support and finance Palestinians, and especially suicide bomber families? The Arab community encourages violence via monetary gifts to Palestinians. The Saudis, among others, would have you believe that the donations are a humanitarian gift designed to help "the children." But this is an empty claim because it ignores a basic rule of economics -- money is fungible. Every dollar that the Saudis send to the Palestinians for ostensibly humanitarian purposes is a dollar freed up in a Hamas coffer or a Palestinian Authority ledger, which is then used to detonate bombs on crowded buses.

And while countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran fear Saddam Hussein, they fear democratic rule more. The Arabic and Persian leaders look to post-Taliban Afghanistan as a threat to their rule. Why else has Iran tried so hard to shape Afghanistan after the Taliban's defeat unless it considered the new regime a threat? When the U.S. finally overthrows Hussein we will likely install a form of quasi-democratic government similar to the one Hamid Karzai now oversees in Afghanistan. If the U.S. defeats the biggest bully on the Arab block and replaces him with a democracy, it will place pressure on every Arab and Muslim nation to initiate democratic reforms of their own.

The domino effect works for capitalism, too. During a June 25 speech President Bush stated, "The forces of extremism and terror are attempting to kill progress and peace by killing the innocent." He wasn't just talking about "Palestine." Bush understands that "true reform," as he also stated in his speech, requires political and economic infrastructure "based on democracy, market economics and action against terrorism." Our enemies and so-called "allies" like Saudi Arabia worry that this formula could be applied to the entire Arab-Muslim world. For example, Iran already has a large dissenting population that is unhappy over the current regime's barbarous rule. Surely the Iranian leaders do not want further encouragement. Might also the Saudi royal family fear a loss of power or even revolt once a thriving democracy matures in Iraq? It doesn't take a Rhodes scholar such as President Clinton to answer that question. By insisting that the U.S. address the Palestinian problem before all others, while at the same time subverting the peace process, these regimes place U.S. foreign policy in flypaper.

If we lived in a perfect world where every party wanted peace in the Middle East, and where Saddam wasn't trying to split atoms, Bill Clinton would be onto something. Unfortunately for all of us, he's wrong. Too many Arab leaders and militant groups prefer violence in the Middle East because it helps guarantee their regimes remain in place. So an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is most likely to occur after changing the regimes of hostile Arab states, not before then. The U.S. could best realize its vision of Arab democracy and market economics by first toppling the region's most wicked foe of democracy - Saddam Hussein. This would be, as Bush said, "an opportunity to lay the foundations for future peace, a test to show who's serious about peace and who is not."

The author is a writer living in Tampa.

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