The Peace Trap
Back to the war, please.


Michael Ledeen

For the second time in as many years, President Bush has fallen into a trap designed to prevent an American victory against the forces of terrorism in the Middle East. The original trap — sprung in early 2002 after the decimation of the Taliban and al Qaeda — was the so-called “Saudi peace plan,” according to which the United States was not entitled to liberate Iraq until and unless the Palestinian question was “solved.” It should have been obvious that this was merely an effort to stall our war against the terror masters, since many of the finest diplomatic and strategic minds in the world had failed to “solve” the problem for more than half a century, and the Saudis themselves were actively funding the very Palestinian terrorism that guaranteed the failure of any solution. But every Arab country, virtually all of Europe, and our own diplomats, from Secretary of State Colin Powell on down, urged the president to go for it.

This delayed Operation Iraqi Freedom for many months, until President Bush realized that nothing could be accomplished with a Palestinian tyranny, whereupon he abandoned the Saudi plan, declared Yasser Arafat persona non grata, and pressed ahead with the war. But the long delay proved very costly. Had we proceeded quickly against the terror masters in Baghdad, Tehran, and Damascus (with explicit warnings to Riyadh that they would be next if they did not stop financing both terrorist organizations and the network of radical jihadist schools and mosques that inculcated fanaticism around the world), we would have had considerable international support, especially if our war employed a mixture of military and political tactics (Iran, for example, required no military action at all, but modest support for a democratic revolution already under way). But the delay enabled the major opponent of the war — notably France, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Iran, Syria, and Egypt — to drag us into the quagmire of the United Nations for even further delays, and sabotage our support in Turkey and elsewhere.

Moreover, by stalling the second battle in the war, our regional enemies in Iran and Syria had plenty of time to plan their response to our pending occupation of Iraq. As they unhesitatingly and publicly proclaimed to anyone who cared to listen, they organized a terror war against us, accompanied by jihadist propaganda, mass demonstrations, and hostage seizures, just as we experienced in Lebanon in the 1980s. And they were true to their word. The mounting terror campaign speaks for itself, and, at last count, more than ten Iranian-sponsored radio and television stations were broadcasting in or into Iraq.

In other words, we cannot win in Iraq without defeating the other terror masters as well. Simple common sense required that we do what President Bush proclaimed shortly after September 11: move forcefully against the terrorist organizations and the states that sponsor and support them. But we did not do that. Instead, the president permitted himself to be dragged into the same trap he fell into after Afghanistan: delaying any further action until the Israel/Palestinian problem was “solved.” This time it was called a roadmap, but, both in concept and consequence, there was no meaningful difference between this scheme and the earlier Saudi trap. Just as it was folly to believe that peace could be achieved in any part of the Middle East merely because Afghanistan had been freed of the grip of the terror masters, so it was a mistake to expect terror to end simply because Saddam Hussein had been overthrown. Just as the delay after Afghanistan permitted our enemies to organize their political, diplomatic, and terrorist forces against us, so our current defensive stance enables them to intimidate and indoctrinate the Iraqi people, murder our own men and women on the ground, and galvanize the president’s critics and opponents, both at home and abroad.

The president gave voice to a welcome revolutionary doctrine when he refused to deal with Yasser Arafat: He said that just as only free Middle Eastern countries could be expected to abandon terrorism and join us in fighting it, only a free and democratic Palestinian people could make a durable peace with Israel. But he has ignored a key corollary to that axiom. There can be no peace anywhere in the region so long as the terror masters are free to operate. In recent weeks many of the recent attacks in Israel have been tracked back to Iran, at the same time that numerous Iranian terrorists have been arrested by Iraqi police and turned over to American forces.

So long as President Bush remains entrapped by the false vision of the “peace process” and plays defense in Iraq, initiative passes to the terror masters. He often speaks as if he understood his peril, but his diplomatic and military policies remain paralyzed by false vision. Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia organize, fund, and support the terror war in Iraq, but instead of supporting freedom fighters in Iran to topple the world’s major sponsor of terror, we plaintively implore the mullahs to hand over some al Qaeda leaders so we can get on with lifting sanctions and “normalizing” relations. Instead of bringing real pressure to bear on the Baathist regime in Syria and the cunning Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia, we plead with the tyrannical leaders of those countries to behave better, so we can have better relations.

This is unworthy of a serious country, and the peoples of the region — whose destiny is at stake in this matter. Understand that while we say we’re at war, we’re certainly not waging it at the moment. Unless we escape from the trap, it is only a matter of time before our soldiers and diplomats in Iraq fall prey to the terror masters on a greater scale.

The longer we delay the inevitable reckoning, the more costly it will be. It’s time to get out of the trap and resume the war.

Michael Ledeen, an NRO contributing editor, is most recently the author of The War Against the Terror Masters. Ledeen is resident Scholar in the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute.


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