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No Time To Blink

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Ever since 9/11, President Bush’s constant refrain has been an uncompromising effort at eliminating terror and its infrastructure around the world. Plainly, this has not been the product of a Pollyannish notion of refashioning the world in the American image, but rather of a hard-nosed evaluation of what it will take to minimize the threat from fundamentalists around the world bent on America’s destruction.

Thus, soon after 9/11, Mr. Bush declared that he would pursue the Bin Ladens of the world wherever they were hiding, and cautioned that the governments that harbored them must either
“cough them up” or be deemed as collaborators and face a U.S. driven effort at “regime change.” The ousting of the Taliban from Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom followed.

Now, as Saddam Hussein is fast being relegated to the dust bin of history, it is important that President Bush stay on message. Despite the blandishments of those in Europe who opposed him for not compromising on Iraq, and even the importunings of those like Prime Minister Blair who supported him, Mr. Bush must not exempt Yasir Arafat from “regime change.” Surely there can be no doubt at this point that Arafat is an unreconstructed terrorist who, despite his regular renunciations of violence, continues to deem the “intifadah” as legitimate resistance. Indeed, the transcripts of the interrogation of Marawan Barghouti document how he was so
recently Arafat’s financial conduit to the Fatah’s military wing and the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade.

But it is not only that preserving Yasir Arafat would represent a double standard. Only if the President is firm in his resolve that we will not do business as usual and look to paper over problems will the Arab world begin to take us seriously. Should an exception be made for Arafat and Palestinian terror, it would send the inescapable message that the steam is running out of U.S. resolve.

The appointment of Abu Mazen as Palestinian Prime Minister is being widely touted as tantamount to a Palestinian “regime change.” Yet virtually all commentators have noted that real power on military and security matters and negotiations with Israel is retained by Arafat. Thus, our announcement of the so-called “roadmap” to Mideast peace at this time is a declaration that we are no longer serious and we really are back to the Clintonian posture of business as usual and prepared to defer dealing with the post 9/11 challenges. The premise of the roadmap is that all parties are serious about peaceful resolution of differences. The Palestinian side, however, has yet to demonstrate there is any point in giving it a seat at the table.

The State Department’s desire to repair relations with Europe, Tony Blair’s political problems and fear of Senator John Kerry and the Democrats seizing a possible political issue for 2004 cannot be allowed to dilute our message. Operation Iraqi Freedom did not follow a “failure of diplomacy” on the part of the Bush Administration as Kerry recently charged. It was just never in the cards that Europe would have gone along with military action against Saddam Hussein. France in particular had too much financial interest in preserving the Saddam Hussein regime, and the French and most of the rest of the world continue to be fixated on denying the U.S. opportunities to project its power around the world.

This is not the time for roadmaps. It is time for honest, hard-nosed analysis – and perseverance.

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