Burning fuse can ignite Mideast

Charley Reese

April 1, 2001

If President Bush thinks he can minimize the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians, he is making a strategic blunder that will cause pain to the United States and the American people.

I've developed the uneasy feeling lately that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell are living in the past. They seem to think nothing much has changed in the past decade. They seem to believe that the United States can still say, "Jump!", and every country in the world will reply, "Yes, sir. How high, boss man?" Those days, if they ever existed, are over.

They, as well as the president, seem to be totally unaware of just how dangerous the situation in the Middle East has become. Perhaps they think that the Palestinians will meekly submit to being bludgeoned into submission by the Israelis. They won't. They apparently think the other Arab countries will do nothing but watch and pass meaningless resolutions.

They should understand that there is a fuse burning that could blow that region and the world economy to bits.

Past performance shows, I believe, that most leaders of the Arab countries do not wish to take any risks on behalf of the Palestinians. They are content to talk and to write a few checks.

The exception is Saddam Hussein.

The burning fuse is the rising anger of the Arab people, the folks in the streets, in the cities and in the villages. Americans are insulated by the self-censorship of American news media, but, through satellite television, the Arabs (and Europeans to a greater extent than Americans) get daily coverage of the brutal treatment and injustices the Israelis commit against the Palestinians.

The Arabs are aware that the United States, which has voted many times to send United Nations peacekeepers here and there, just vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution to send peacekeepers to protect the Palestinians.

The Arabs see correctly that it is United States support -- military, financial and chief blocker at the United Nations -- that allows Israel to act in any way it pleases. Therefore, they can conclude with perfect logic that the United States is an enemy of the Arab people. The United States is willing to cause the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children in the name of enforcing "sacred" United Nations resolutions, but blocks the enforcement of more than 60 United Nations resolutions critical of Israeli actions.

American politicians are clever at covering their tracks and at deliberately misleading the American people. Every time an American is killed in the Middle East, the politicians act as if the perpetrators had parachuted down from Mars and attacked Americans for no reason whatsoever.

In fact, though, too many Americans who have died in terrorist attacks in the Middle East have died because of the grossly unfair and unjust policies of the United States vis-a-vis Israel and the Palestinians. Eventually, if America continues to allow the Israelis a free hand, the Arab people will get so angry they will force their leaders to act or replace them with leaders who will.

At that point, the United States will find its policy in shambles.

It is not an impossibility that one day Persian Gulf states may say to the United States, "Get out and take your ships and planes with you."

It is not inconceivable that one day Russians and Chinese will be guarding the oil in the Persian Gulf. At this very moment, Chinese are exploiting the oil in the Sudan -- oil that had been discovered by an American firm, which got bounced out along with the pro-American dictator.

We have, in fact, been thrown out of other countries.

And it most definitely is not an impossibility that the region could explode into open war with an untold cost in lives and with dire economic consequences for the whole world economy.

The American government is endangering the nation's strategic interests and American lives simply to cater to the lobby of a foreign government. Merely repeating whatever the Israeli government says is not a policy or a strategy. That is acting like a ventriloquist's dummy.

Bush promised us leadership.

Well, here's his chance.

Reach Charley Reese at creese@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5315.

Copyright (c) 2001, Orlando Sentinel

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