years I believed that when it came to Middle East peacemaking, America
couldn't want peace more than the parties themselves. I no longer
believe that. In fact, I now believe just the opposite. For there
to be any progress, America must want peace more than the parties
themselves — in Israel and the West Bank, and in Iraq. And the question
I have going forward is whether that will be the case with President
First a word
about Mr. Bush. He deserves a tip of the hat for having his principles
right. His conviction that getting rid of Saddam Hussein was necessary
to build a different Iraq and a different Middle East — which are
both critical for drying up terrorism — was right. And his convictions
that the Palestinians had to move beyond Yasir Arafat to a responsible
leadership and that the Israelis had to come to terms with the inevitability
of a Palestinian state and an end to settlements, if there was to
be any progress toward peace, are also right.
But — you knew
there was a "but" coming — the question I always have about members
of the Bush team is, How good are they at translating principles
into practice? When it comes to breaking things they are very, very
good — whether it is the ABM treaty, the Kyoto accord, Afghanistan,
Iraq or the old way of Arab-Israeli peacemaking. The Bush people
believe in power and are not afraid to wield the wrecking ball.
But how good are they with a hammer and a nail? How good are they
at the detail work of building real alternatives — to Kyoto, Saddam
or the Arab-Israel peace process? This is still the most important
unanswered question about this administration. Can it reap the harvest
of the principles it has sown?
Don't get me
wrong — ultimately it is up to Israelis, Palestinians and Iraqis
to liberate themselves. They have to want it. But at this stage,
we have to use our power to help create the context for them to
do it. And that is hard. It means taking hits politically and militarily,
which is why if we are to do it right we really have to want it
"In both Iraq
and the Arab-Israeli conflict," says the Middle East expert Stephen
Cohen, "there is such a struggle of wills within the competing parties,
and between the competing parties, and the forces for and against
change are so evenly balanced, that only a third party — with a
clear vision — can swing things toward compromise. That is America's
role. [Also] the parties themselves are always going to be focused
on the immediate costs of doing something because the positive outcomes
seem remote or even unlikely to them. Which is why they'll need
In Iraq, it's
still not clear to me how much the Bush team wants to do nation-building
there. The Rumsfeld doctrine of small-force, high-tech armies may
be great for winning wars, but you need the Powell doctrine for
winning the peace: a massive, overwhelming investment of soldiers,
police and aid. We should be flooding Iraq with people and money
right now. Start big and then build down — not the other way around.
Ditto on the politics side. In destroying the Iraqi Army and Baath
Party, we have destroyed the (warped) pillars of Iraqi secular nationalism.
We need to start replacing them, quickly, with alternative, progressive
pillars of Iraqi secular nationalism; otherwise, Shiite religious
nationalism will fill the void.
We will have
to do the same in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Israel's
prime minister, Ariel Sharon, has said some remarkable and important
things lately, most notably: "You may not like the word but what's
happening is occupation. Holding 3.5 million Palestinians is a bad
thing for Israel, for the Palestinians and for the Israeli economy."
The newly elected Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, recently
gave a talk detailing what a disaster the last two years of Palestinian
uprising had been — an uprising encouraged by Yasir Arafat.
these changes in Israeli-Palestinian principles into real changes
in quality of life, for both communities, will be a full-time job
for the Bush team. Because for both Israelis and Palestinians, forging
a two-state solution will require some level of civil war within
each community — between moderates and extremists.
And we should
want that more than they do (or at least as much), because if we've
learned anything since 9/11, it's that the spreading flames of Middle
East conflicts have, in a world without walls, begun affecting our
quality of life. Their madness has become our metal detectors —
and we've had enough of it.