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Edward Holman

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Nov 22, 2002, 1:29:19 AM11/22/02
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An Effort To Match In the Mideast


By Brent Scowcroft
Thursday, November 21, 2002; Page A41


The United States has just concluded a remarkable exercise in diplomacy. It
has opened up a possibility for peaceful resolution of the crisis over Iraq
that few would have thought conceivable only three months ago. While the
process may have resembled the old adage about watching sausage being made,
it has resulted in a tough, clear directive to Saddam Hussein.

By credibly threatening unilateral military action to resolve an Iraqi
problem that has festered for years, the administration achieved two
objectives. First, it induced the United Nations Security Council to face up
to its responsibilities. Second, by declaring that the only sure solution to
the Iraqi problem was regime change by military force, the administration
maximized the odds that Saddam Hussein would take the United States
seriously, accept U.N. authority and avoid a conflict that could well
involve incalculable consequences for the region. The result: unanimous
agreement in the Security Council that an international outlaw regime must
return forthwith to lawful behavior, and unmistakable determination to use
military force if it does not. A remarkable outcome, notwithstanding that
the process by which it was achieved has left wide resentment and bruised
feelings on the part of those who believe the United States has behaved in a
unilateral and arrogant manner that failed to take their interests and
concerns adequately into account.

What now? Saddam Hussein, having accepted the Security Council's resolution,
has two options. He can cooperate and comply fully -- unlikely, given his
past record. Or he can choose a temporizing strategy, testing U.N. resolve
but cooperating just enough -- by his calculations -- to avoid military
action against him. Since his most basic objective is certainly to stay in
power, he is likely to try to buy time through minimal compliance, hoping
that the international resolve to resort to force will wane. If so, the
biggest risk is that he will miscalculate -- perhaps sooner rather than
later -- what he must do and what he can get away with. This most likely
course could take some time to work itself out, whatever the eventual
outcome.

While the inspection process is underway, the administration could launch
another diplomatic initiative that could rival the triumph it just scored,
and at the same time reinforce the success it has just achieved. This
initiative would take the form of devoting the same kind of skill, audacity
and laser-like attention to the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Such a move could
assuage some of the ill will stimulated in the Middle East and Europe by the
hard-hitting Iraq initiative. It would show U.S. determination to deal with
the one issue that is the primary lens through which the Arab world views
the United States. It would also reduce the appeal of al Qaeda and other
terrorist groups and the negative reaction that would ensue should force
against Iraq prove necessary. In sum, it would not only address a critical
security problem but also strengthen and sustain the international coalition
that has been forged on the Iraq issue. In so doing it would help doom a
"buy time" strategy by Saddam Hussein.

How might this work? The United States has already taken a first step by
developing, with its partners in the "Quartet" (the international consulting
group consisting of the United States, the United Nations, the European
Union and Russia), a road map for the achievement of a Palestinian state by
2005. Some will argue that it would be imprudent, even dangerous, to push
further at a time when Israelis (and perhaps the Palestinians) are facing
elections. But the contrary might well be true. With the selection of its
new leader, the Labor Party has put the peace process at the top of Israel's
election agenda. The administration owes the parties a clear statement of
its vision. Presenting it at this time could provide both the Israeli and
Palestinian publics a broader perspective on the most important issue facing
them even as they engage in the election process.

The outlines of a process are already clear. The Palestinians need to end
terrorist attacks and reform the Palestinian Authority. To require total
compliance as a precondition, however, is simply to put control of the
process in the hands of those on both sides who do not want it to succeed.
Steps toward reform of the Palestinian Authority have already begun. We
should define its requirements in non-personal terms, to avoid putting
ourselves in the position of supporting democracy, but only if it elects
Palestinians we prefer.

For the Israeli side, there must be a willingness to pull back forces from
West Bank population centers short of a total cessation of violence -- which
no one can guarantee. Any type of settlement expansion must cease.

For the United States and its partners in the Quartet, there should be a
willingness to outline in greater detail the nature of a Palestinian state,
and to provide some sort of presence -- including military personnel at
least from the United States and the European Union -- as Israel pulls back
from its occupation in the West Bank.

None of this is new. But a clear, high-profile U.S. effort to move with
vigor to build on our Iraqi diplomatic success with progress on the region's
most vexing and intractable problem could open the way for change in the
region that could be revolutionary, supporting all U.S. aspirations for the
area. It could attenuate -- perhaps even reverse -- deepening anti-American
feelings in the Middle East, feelings that, if left unchecked, may threaten
our security.

The writer is president of the Forum for International Policy and the
Scowcroft Group. He was national security adviser to Presidents Ford and
George H.W. Bush.

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