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Mr. Blair Comes To Town

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British Prime Minister Tony Blair is on his way to Washington to meet with President Bush. As is being widely reported, his agenda includes the final disarming of Iraq, post-war rebuilding of Iraq and last, but certainly not least, implementation of the so-called “road map” to Middle East peace. There is a lot more at stake in this meeting than might be imagined.

In a departure from his notable dissent from the European position on Iraq, in which he insists that Saddam Hussein’s time has run out, Blair has long shared their view that Israel should be pressured into taking the first steps towards a resumption of negotiations with the Palestinian Authority even though the PA continues to deem terror as politically legitimate. That is, while President Bush and Prime Minister Sharon have been insisting on democratic reform of the Palestinian Authority and an end to terror as a precondition to negotiations, Blair and the
Europeans have urged Israel to negotiate under fire.

So it can be expected that Mr. Blair will try to convince President Bush that the time has come to break the log jam - and naturally, at Israel’s expense. Doubtless Blair, who seeks to shore up his faltering popularity at home with “progress” on the Israel/ Palestinian front, will argue that the appointment of a Prime Minister for the Palestinian Authority is a signal event, and the need to reclaim the goodwill of the Arab world an urgent imperative. However, the very logic of Operation Iraqi Freedom dictates otherwise.

If the action taken against Iraq means anything, it is that we will no longer be conducting business as usual. This was put into sharp focus by what French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said just prior to the outbreak of the war:

The choice before us is between two visions of the world. To those who choose to use force and think that they can resolve the world’s complexity through swift, preventive action, we offer in contrast, resolute action and a long-term approach.

As far as the vision President Bush outlined soon after 9/11 is concerned, however, things are not all that complex. It is a simple fact that the main threat to America today is from the rogue terrorists who are based in the Middle East and therefore also from the countries that host them. The European model is that of preservation of untouchable nation-states, even those ruled by dictators. The system is protected by diplomatic niceties about “sovereignty” and trade agreements. This approach just doesn’t work anymore. With Afghanistan and now more clearly with Iraq, we have finally cast off the notion that we have the luxury of waiting for enemies to attack first and bide the time in between with diplomatic maneuvering.

Just as straightforwardly, the advent of a sham Palestinian Prime Minister changes nothing. Not for Israel and not for the United States. With Yassir Aafat retaining control over security and negotiations with Israel, Israel, just like  America, is still faced with the reality of a terrorist enemy out there waiting to spring at a time and place of its own choosing. Moreover, as we have observed on several occasions, the mere existence of terror cells in Palestinian territories
facilitates terror around the world. And, if America blinks vis-?-vis Israel, then the point of Operation Iraqi Freedom is also blunted.

Further, although our war effort does seem to be suffering from the refusal of Turkey to allow US troops to cross its territory, the lack of support from Arab countries has not affected us one whit. We also sense that if things are handled skillfully, the Arabs will be lining up to get back in our good graces.

In sum, what is at stake in President Bush staying the course in standing behind Israel is not just whether Israel will be able to defend itself. What is also at stake is whether President Bush’s vision of the new challenges of post 9/11 will continue to drive American foreign policy and whether or not that message will resonate and be taken seriously around the world. We may owe Tony Blair a debt of gratitude for standing with us at considerable political cost to himself. But that cannot extend to rendering our newly-found resolve and sense of sacrifice a nullity.

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