Washington — Readers of this column might recall that during the querulous prelude to the recent war in Iraq — do we now call it the Three Week War? — I wrote about the therapeutic value of a Whiff of Grapeshot. Now in the Middle East and for that matter all around the world the Whiff has been sniffed. The world has calmed down. Equally pleasing, there is hope again for a peaceful settlement in the Middle East.
This was not the outcome anticipated at the Democratic National Committee or at DNC headquarters in Hollywood, California. The Bush Administration’s invasion of Iraq was supposed to lead to violent anti-American demonstrations along “The Arab Street.” Horrible terrorist outbreaks were going to take place here and abroad. Reprising the prophecies made during the prelude to the Gulf War, the American military was about to be mired in another Vietnam.
My favorite authority on the futility of invading Iraq was, as I have written, the Hollywood philosophe, Mr. George Clooney, who observed at the outset: “You can’t beat your enemy anymore through wars.” Along with such other distinguished anti-war Hollywoodians as Mr. Sean Penn, Mr. Dustbin Hoffman, and the pulchritudinous Miss Elizabeth Taylor, Mr. Michael Jackson’s beauty consultant, Mr. Clooney chided President Bush for his old-fashioned concepts. “I believe he [President George W. Bush] thinks this is a war that can be won,” Mr. Clooney opined, “but there is no such thing anymore.”
Yet now the Whiff of Grapeshot effect seems to be taking hold. Not only is there relative quiet in the Middle East, but there is movement towards peace. As an extra added benefit, former president Saddam Hussein’s professional torturers are applying for unemployment. The Whiff of Grapeshot effect was first observed by the late Napoleon Bonaparte in 1795 when he noted how quiet the streets of Paris became after he fired off a volley or two at the skedaddling royalists. We friends of peace have advocated it ever since. Now we again see its usefulness.
In Damascus Secretary of State Colin Powell has had what the Sun paraphrased as “a candid discussion — which in diplomatic terms means it was frank, possibly contentious” — with President Bashar al-Assad. Reportedly as a consequence Syria is shutting down offices of some of the terrorists who have operated out of Damascus. It appears that the Syrians are falling under the influence of our grapeshot’s fragrances. On the West Bank the Palestinian Authority has appointed a Prime Minister, Mahmoud Abbas (also known as Abu Mazen), who has told Europeans that in his inaugural address he will call for an end to the “armed struggle” against Israel. Again, is this a consequence of grapeshot’s fragrance? And last week the Bush Administration introduced its “road map” to a peaceful settlement of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, which Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says could lead to “painful concessions” on his part.
In Israel’s struggle against so many hostile forces in the Middle East I have never been an optimist, at least not in the short run. More than two decades ago I returned from a trip through the Middle East and filed my assessment in Harper’s magazine. I said that Israel was up against a warlike people “wedded to a warlike religion.” All Israel could do to survive was patiently to resist. Two years ago when I reiterated that judgment in the Washington Times an orchestrated response from Arabs all over the country filled the entire correspondence page of the Times with protests. I have stood by my judgment.
Yet now just possibly a road map for peace can be pursued. In the first phase the Palestinians are expected to “undertake visible efforts” to thwart terrorist acts committed anywhere against Israelis. Commensurately Israelis are to loosen their restraints on Palestinian movement and to dismantle new settlement outposts. After this the road map foresees the creation of a Palestinian state with provisional borders and continued Palestinian vigilance against terrorism towards Israelis. If all this goes well the road map envisages final agreements on such remaining issues as borders, settlements, and Jerusalem. In other words, the road map foresees normalized relations between Arabs and Jews.
That is a tall order. The road map is fraught with dangers. Yet such possibilities are closer to reality today than back when Mr. Clooney and his ilk were saying war is a futile pursuit. I attribute this to the value of grapeshot, as I wait to see just how successful Abu Mazen will be in using a little grapeshot of his own.