It’s time — again — to rein in Colin Powell. We are at another Powell-induced point at which the President must speak directly to America and, more importantly, to our enemies to demonstrate that his resolve is not wavering, and that we mean to destroy terrorists, not deal with them as diplomatic equals. Precious little is ever clear in the world of diplomacy, but it’s all-too-clear that Mr. Powell has lost his way.
On Friday, Mr. Powell delivered himself of the opinion that Israel should hand over the Gaza Strip and the city of Bethlehem to Palestinian control before a cease-fire is obtained with the terrorists. On Saturday, having apparently been corrected, Mr. Powell said that the United States was ready to “blast through” anyone who stood in the way of the so-called “road map” to peace the President has embraced. He said — correctly — that Hamas and the other terrorist factions needed to be not only disarmed, but rooted out as soon as possible.
Only a day later, when the Israelis “blasted through” another Hamas leader, Abdullah Qawasmeh, Mr. Powell said that Qawasmeh’s death was a “matter of concern.” Qawasmeh was responsible for three suicide bombings this spring, including an attack in Jerusalem which killed 17 people. There are so many conflicting signals coming out of the Secretary of State that he is doing a superb job of preventing progress on the peace plan his boss has staked too much on.
It is damaging to America’s ability to fight the war against terrorism for Mr. Powell to be advocating concessions to terrorists such as Hamas who reject absolutely any cease-fire with Israel. Mr. Powell thinks progress can be made in dealing with Mahmoud Abbas, the latest Palestinian prime minister, who less than a week ago offered Hamas and Islamic Jihad places in the Palestinian “national leadership.” Why has the President allowed this absurdity to continue? Can it be that the President is becoming preoccupied with the fact that we haven’t yet found Saddam’s WMD?
Administration defensiveness on that subject is growing daily. The media are trying to create a feeding frenzy over the missing WMD. In one line in the State of the Union address, Mr. Bush said that Iraq was trying to buy uranium oxide from Niger to use to create fissionable material. That report was untrue, and the administration owned up to that long ago. It was bum information passed on by British intelligence, which is — despite 007’s reputation — fallible like everyone else. Now Time magazine quotes White House chief of staff Andy Card to the effect that the Administration is guilty of nothing more than relying on information that turned out to be faulty. That mistake was minor: before the Iraq campaign, the immediate WMD threat was always described as in the chemical and biological weapons. The error on uranium was immaterial to the decision for military action.
In his Saturday radio address, Mr. Bush said, “”The intelligence services of many nations concluded that he had illegal weapons, and the regime refused to provide evidence they had been destroyed.” He promised to search for “the true extent of Saddam Hussein’s weapons programs, no matter how long it takes.” But this new defensiveness can be fatal, both to our policy of preemption and to Mr. Bush’s credibility. After 9-11, Mr. Bush decided — correctly — that the best defense against terrorism is a good offense. This is no time to sow doubts about that.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot — let’s keep that straight — cannot be settled between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The terrorist groups that infest the West Bank and Gaza Strip are not sui generis. They are funded and supported by nations such as Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and several others that want Israel destroyed and will settle for nothing less. Those nations don’t care about the Palestinians, who are nothing more than cannon fodder in the non-stop war against Israel. Unless and until these other nations stop supporting terrorism there, there will be no peace. No matter how many roadmaps we draw, they all go in circles until these other nations are resolved to end the bloodshed.
Tell the Palestinians that once they have achieved — not promised — six months without a terrorist attack, we’ll start paying attention again. Mr. Powell’s suggestion that Israel should cede Gaza and Bethlehem to Palestinian control before there is a cease-fire amounts to nothing less than offering to reward terrorism. The President should — forcefully — say just that. Mr. Bush should call a halt to the latest exercise in wishful thinking and get back to bidness. Which means finishing the job in Iraq.
Iraq won’t be done until Saddam is captured or killed, the WMD are accounted for, and a new democratic government is set up. Saddam’s fate will be determined sooner or later, probably by Task Force 20, the spec ops/intel group that is hunting him relentlessly. The WMD were there, and if they were moved or destroyed, we won’t know until Saddam is out of the picture. Those who feared him before we destroyed his military still fear him, and won’t cooperate with our search until they are sure they are safe. Even then, the people who know what happened may be in thrall to another despot, still anxious to conceal the facts or the weapons themselves.
Paul Bremer is a good man, as was Jay Garner before him. Neither is Iraqi, and neither is able to govern Iraq. Since last fall, I have been arguing that we need to let the Iraqi opposition groups declare a provisional government and let them form a national parliament, form and run government agencies, and let them govern themselves. We must, of course, stay there to prevent the Iranians from setting up another radical Islamist terrorist regime. But we cannot succeed in Iraq until the Iraqis succeed themselves. If we believe we cannot do that until the country is pacified, and Iran, Russia and the EUnuchs isolated, we are putting the cart miles in front of the horse. We need to give the Iraqis the chance to govern themselves, and the sooner the better.