On Wednesday, the flags flew at half mast throughout America to commemorate the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 which brought the US into World War II. Sadly, if one is to judge by the machinations of the American media and the Democratic Party, it would seem that today the lessons of that attack, like the lessons of the surprise attacks on the US 60 years later, have been lost on increasing portions of the American body politic.
Today, the top item on the public agenda in Washington is the war in Iraq. Prominent leaders of the Democratic Party in Congress like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Representative John Murtha, Senator John Kerry and Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean are all calling for a unilateral pullout of American forces from Iraq of one sort or another.
For these leaders of America's political opposition, it would seem that President George W. Bush, rather than the terrorists attacking American forces and their Iraqi allies, is the enemy of the good who must be defeated. These politicians are hard at work sowing the seeds of demoralization among the American public.
This week Dean said outright that the "idea that we're going to win the war in Iraq is an idea which is just plain wrong." Murtha claimed this week that the US Army "is broken."
For its part, the US media are going out of their way to paint a hopeless picture of the reality on the ground in Iraq. According to a study by the Media Research Center, since August the US media has reported 10 times more negative than positive stories about events in Iraq. This at a time when Iraqi polls show that 82% of Iraqis are optimistic about the future of their country.
After absorbing the Democrats' attacks in silence for the better part of the past year, over the past two weeks the Bush Administration has finally begun defending its policies in Iraq. President Bush and Vice President Richard Cheney have given several speeches each in which both have vowed to continue the fight in Iraq until victory has been achieved. Victory, as they define it, is a capitulation of the terror forces and the establishment of a stable democratic regime in the country.
US generals in Iraq are not standing by silently as the war they are leading is denounced back home. Maj.-Gen. William Webster, who commands the US Army's Third Infantry Division which is deployed in Iraq, said three weeks ago, "Setting a date [to withdraw US forces from Iraq] would mean that the 221 soldiers I've lost this year, that their lives will have been lost in vain."
It is hard to imagine a scenario where Bush would withdraw US forces from Iraq before victory in the war has been achieved. Quite simply the president has staked his presidency on the war in Iraq and he cannot afford to accept defeat on that battlefield. At the same time, the political weakening of the administration as a result of the unrelenting attacks on its handling of the war makes it unlikely that Bush will widen the war to include Iran and Syria (or Saudi Arabia) which serve as the principal bases for the terrorists fighting in Iraq. In the absence of a military option against any of these countries, it is difficult to believe that the Americans will be able to win the war in Iraq before the end of Bush's second term.
Bush's successor, regardless of his party affiliation, will not be personally invested in Iraq as Bush is. As a result the next American president will not be able to be counted on to see the war through to victory. In light of this, it cannot be ruled out that the US will depart from Iraq without victory.
FROM THE indifferent coverage the war in Iraq has received from the Israeli media, one could get the impression that Iraq was located somewhere in the South Pacific. Partially as a result of American unwillingness to link their war against Arab terrorists in Iraq to Israel's war against Arab terrorists in Israel, partially due to Israel's penchant for self-obsession, Israelis generally, and Israeli politicians and media elites in particular, tend to operate under the assumption that events in Iraq have no influence on Israel's strategic position. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.
If the Americans curtail their involvement in Iraq in a significant manner without achieving victory, there can be no doubt that Israel's security will be seriously compromised. This new vulnerability would be all the more dramatic if an American disengagement in Iraq were to occur as Iran achieved nuclear capabilities. In such an event, a likely scenario would involve the empowerment of a pro-Iranian Shi'ite regime in Baghdad. The implications of such a development for Israel, as well as for Jordan (which supports both the Americans and the Ba'athists), would be calamitous.
As many former and current Bush administration officials have acknowledged behind closed doors, the IDF withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000, like the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and northern Samaria this summer, strongly influenced the terrorists battling the Americans and their Iraqi and international coalition partners in Iraq. For the terrorists, Israel and America are two sides of the same coin.
Abu Musab Zarkawi and his ilk in Iraq see that their Palestinian and Lebanese partners managed to demoralize the Israeli public to the point where it allowed its government to curb the IDF and hand victory after victory to the terrorists. By the same token, an American rout in Iraq would inspire terrorists fighting Israel to believe that through attrition they can destroy the Jewish state.
Additionally, were the US to withdraw its forces from Iraq prematurely, the move would have disastrous consequences for Israel's conventional warfare position. The near consensus view that rooted itself in Israel's public discourse in the wake of the US-led overthrow of Saddam's regime, that Israel's eastern front had ceased to pose a threat, would be thrown on its head.
The uncertainly regarding America's long-term commitment to the war in Iraq specifically and the war against Islamic terror generally coincides with the uncertainty regarding the future course of Palestinian society.
On the one hand, this week a small but significant event occurred. Palestinian Authority Finance Minister Salaam Fayad's decision to resign his position and form a new political party from which he will run a slate of candidates for the Palestinian legislative council could become a watershed event in Palestinian political development. It is not that Fayad is committed to peaceful coexistence with Israel – he is not so committed in any way that is meaningful to Israelis. It is not even that Fayad has distinguished himself as a voice against terrorism. He has not so distinguished himself. What is unique about Fayad's move is that his party is the only Palestinian political party that is not also a terrorist organization. His ability to attract votes in next month's Palestinian elections will be a bellwether for determining the direction that Palestinian society is moving.
On the other hand, we have the general anarchy into which Palestinian society has plunged since Israel's withdrawal from Gaza and northern Samaria. The Fatah party and terror organization is at war against itself and this internecine battle is taking its toll on the PA. Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad have been vastly strengthened by the Israeli pullout as well as by the influx of terror personnel, money and arms from the Sinai since the IDF vacated the international border separating Gaza from the Sinai. In spite of their turf battles, all the terror groups remain wholly committed to continuing their war for the destruction of Israel.
Iran and Syria, like Egypt, have an abiding interest in both prolonging the anarchy in the Palestinian ranks and conti
nuing and intensifying the terror war against Israel. And so, in spite of Fayad's notable initiative, in all likelihood the current state of anarchy and terrorist warfare among the Palestinians will continue and intensify in the coming years.
AGAINST THE backdrop of this chronic uncertainty relating to Iraq and the Palestinians stands Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his new political party Kadima and calls for a quick Israeli withdrawal to roughly the 1949 armistice lines.
The question that must be asked here is what is his rush?
In the current environment so marked by instability, there can be little doubt that Israel's national interest is best served by strengthening our hold on Judea and Samaria. Indeed, it is hard to see the strategic or international logic of a plan for Israeli retreats of any kind in Judea and Samaria given the vast changes currently under way throughout the region.
This view holds even if one believes that in the event that democratic, anti-terrorist, pro-Western regimes take hold in Baghdad and Gaza, Israel's national interest would be served by relinquishing lands in the areas to the Palestinians. In the present circumstances, such an Israeli retreat would only serve to strengthen the most extreme forces both among the Palestinians and the Iraqis as well as among their supporters in Iran, Syria, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
The problem is that the more one analyzes Sharon's actions and behavior, the more one is led to the conclusion that the national interest is not what motivates the prime minister. Rather Sharon is motivated by his personal interests.
For Sharon, as for his comrade Shimon Peres, a principal motivator seems to be his biological clock. The urge to determine Israel's national borders cannot be the function of a rational analysis of regional realities at a time when all of our neighbors are in flux and none of their societies accepts Israel's right to exist within any borders. For a gerontocracy like the Sharon-Peres government, an overwhelming urge seems to be to clean the slate before the old men make their final exits.
Aside from that, Minister Tzahi Hanegbi's decision to bolt Likud and join Kadima just hours before the police announced their intention to recommend to the state attorney that he be indicted on corruption charges points to yet another factor motivating Sharon and his comrades in his new party. This motive was first openly exposed in July 2003 when then attorney-general Elyakim Rubinstein admitted that he was delaying the criminal probes relating to Sharon to enable Sharon to advance his peace initiatives. Today, when Sharon's son, MK Omri Sharon, a convicted felon, is running for Knesset and managing his father's campaign as he awaits sentencing for his crimes, it is hard to escape the impression that Kadima serves more as a refuge for fugitives from justice and restless old men than a political party whose purpose is to advance the national interests of a country at war.
In light of the uncertainty of Washington's long-term commitment to the war on Arab terror and given the instability of the Arab world in general and of Iraq and the Palestinians in particular, Israel is in dire need of a leadership with fortitude to weather long storms – a leadership unfettered by biological clocks and criminal entanglements.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.