Friday, December 07, 2001

Something Snapped

After the suicide bombing last weekend, something seems to have snapped. The Israeli cabinet declared Arafat "A regime that harbors terrorism and all that implies," and then launched a series of air strikes, blowing up Arafat's helicopters and airports, forcing him to stay in Ramallah, near Jerusalem. The assumption is that he is much less dangerous in Ramallah then flying around the world.

Afterwards, everybody in Israel was watching the television or reading the newspaper waiting for he condemnations of Israel to begin. Strangely, they never came. Usually, when a terror attack occurs, the State Department launches a preemptive condemnation of Israel for whatever it's about to do, the White House stays quiet, and the Congress supports Israel. This time, though, they all seem to be speaking with one voice of tacit support. Even Colin Powell was able to hold his tongue and say that Israel's government is democratically elected and must defend itself.

Has common sense finally broken out? Why? I'm sure that the Palestinian leadership is scratching their collective heads as well, trying to figure out why they aren't gaining any diplomatic advantage from the attack this time, like a dog waiting expectantly for a treat who gets whipped instead. After all, this attack isn't really any different from the hundreds of others which have been executed by the Palestinian Authority, nor are these fatalities any different from the thousands who have died by Arafat's hand over the last thirty years.

There are a few possible reasons. This is the first large-scale terrorist attack to happen since the beginning of the US's military campaign in Afghanistan. America would have a serious credibility problem if, in the middle of waging a war on a country which launched a deadly terrorist attack on it, it condemned Israel for doing the same.

Prior to this, the Bush administration placed a very high value on the coalition. What they have found since the ground campaign, however, is that if anything, the Arab states in the coalition are pinning the operations down. The Saudis are not allowing the U.S. to use its runways in the campaign, and the "coalition partners" aren't exactly lining up to take part in these actions. It is also noteworthy that all of the 9-11 hijackers came from the same Arab countries who are supposedly the most pro-western, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, raising questions about their true loyalties.

More importantly, however, I think that Bush has decided to use the momentum of the military campaign to go after Iraq in an effort to "clean up" this corner of the world. He knows that doing so will face opposition from all of the Arab members of the coalition, except Kuwait, and his administration has been very frank that the coalition may change, getting people ready for the Arab governments to bail out. If you're going to upset the Arabs, it will hurt just as much to do it now as later. If the Arab governments decide to raise oil prices as punishment at a time like this, it will be perceived in Washington as an attempt to undermine the war on terrorism The billions of dollars foreign aid to these coalition partners, as well as technology transfers, will be in jeopardy.

In the end, however, it comes down to personal politics. Bush and his administration see the world very simply. Either you are with the U.S. or you are against it. They seem to be tired of dealing with the slippery, stab-your-best-friend-in-the-back nature of Mideast politics. Not that politics everywhere isn't like that, but here, back-stabbing is not a figure of speech but a literal occurrence. They are also sick of dealing with Arafat and have reached the conclusion that he is either incapable or unwilling to make peace, ahs no credibility, and is therefore of no further use to the administration. There have been times when one of Bush's aides called Arafat and asked if such-and-such terrorist was in prison in Gaza, and Arafat confirmed that he was, to which the aid replied, "Then how did Israel kill him ten minutes ago in Ramallah?" The usual argument that Arafat is the best of all possible evils isn't washing any more, because things seem so bad now that they couldn't be any worse under Hamas.

All of this, as well as things we may not yet have heard, may have lead the U.S. to abandon it's policy of even-handedness and side with Israel. The question is: Is this a long-term strategic decision, or a short-term tactical decision?

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