In the days immediately following the US military's liberation of Baghdad last month, the anarchy in the streets was a clear sign that the US had succeeded in the first half of its mission in Iraq. Its armed forces had overthrown the terror-supporting dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.
In the weeks since the military victory was achieved, the main question has been whether the US will now do what is necessary to accomplish the second half of its mission: to lead Iraq until conditions have been met to enable the functioning of a democratic government in a country which has no history of participatory democracy.
The US military's arrest Sunday of Muhammad Mohsen Zubaidi, who had proclaimed himself mayor of Baghdad, was a clear indication that the US administration will not allow rogue forces like Zubaidi to compromise its authority.
The manhunt for key members of Saddam's regime, who will be prosecuted as war criminals, is a further indication that the US has full intention of winning the political battle for Iraq's soul with the same single-mindedness with which it won the battle to wrest control from Saddam.
Sadly, the Bush administration is not showing the same leadership in its management of the Palestinians' terrorist war against Israel. Rather, here the situation is comparable to the manner in which the first Bush administration mismanaged its military victory in the Gulf War.
In 1991, Washington allowed Saddam to retain power and even sided with the dictator when, at the recommendation of then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Colin Powell, the administration enabled Saddam to brutally quell Kurdish and Shi'ite rebellions against his rule in the aftermath of that war.
Limiting its operations to enforcing the "no-fly" zones, the US for a decade allowed Saddam to continue destabilizing the region, amassing prohibited weaponry, terrorizing his citizenry, forging alliances with groups like al-Qaida, and funding Palestinian terrorists.
Here, the US is following a similarly strategically ambivalent and morally questionable policy with regard to its handling of the Palestinian Authority. In orchestrating its policy with the UN, EU, and Russia – the other members of the so-called Quartet – the administration is subordinating its decision-making power to forces that share none of President George W. Bush's convictions on the necessity of fighting terror and encouraging the spread of democracy in the Arab world.
Lest we have forgotten, it was just last year that the UN's special middle east coordinator, Terje Larsen, ignominiously stood before television cameras in Jenin and insinuated that Israel was guilty of war crimes in the IDF's combat operations against terrorists in the UN-managed Jenin refugee camp.
His remarks came at the same time as the UN Security Council debated its resolution to investigate charges not of Palestinian war crimes after terrorists from the PA murdered 130 Israelis in a single month but rather Israel for moving in to destroy terror cells threatening its citizens.
Then too, bringing in the EU ignores the fact that it has been a chief financier of the PA's terrorist war against Israel. Under the leadership of foreign relations czar Chris Patten and Middle East envoy Miguel Moratinos, the EU has transferred $10 million a month to the PA's coffers. This has gone on continuously in spite of the irrefutable evidence that Israel has presented showing the money is being transferred to Fatah terror cells.
When faced with a demand by European parliamentarians to investigate the charges of terror funding, Patten undiplomatically responded that he needed an investigation "like a hole in the head."
In embracing the newly inaugurated regime of Mahmoud Abbas, Yasser Arafat's deputy of some 40 years, the Bush administration is accepting a myth of a reformed Palestinian Authority. In so doing, it is expending political capital backing a Palestinian leader who shares none of the president's hopes for a reformed PA that can eventually lead to the establishment of a democratic Palestinian state.
Because of the support he enjoys from the Bush administration, Palestinians see Abbas as a US puppet they derisively compare to Hamid Karzai, the US-anointed president of Afghanistan. And yet, in stark contrast to Karzai, Abbas has not committed himself to waging war against terrorism by actively working to destroy terrorist infrastructure in the PA.
Rather, like Arafat, he suffices with trite condemnations of terrorism, while continuing to define Israel's actions to destroy these infrastructures as morally indistinguishable from acts of mass murder and mayhem launched against Israeli civilians.
Working with the other members of its discordant Quartet, the Bush administration has now adopted the "Road Map to a Permanent Two-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict" as official US Middle East policy. In so doing, the US is undermining its credibility as a nation that fights terrorism by giving a reward to the PA for its almost three-year-old terrorist war against Israel.
Tuesday night's massacre at Mike's Place in Tel Aviv signaled that far from losing their nerve as a result of Abbas's rise to prominence, the terror cells are continuing to innovate.
The two murderers who carried out the attack were brought into the Palestinian terror nexus as British tourists. It is still unclear whether Fatah and Hamas, the groups that claimed responsibility are in fact the responsible parties, but if so, this is the first time these groups have utilized foreigners to carry out attacks for them.
And yet, after this attack and Abbas's meaningless condemnation of it, the Bush administration went forward in officially presenting the road map. This document represents not simply a readoption of the failed Oslo process.
The road map, which at its outset posits that its object is the swift establishment of a Palestinian state, demonstrates to the same Palestinian leaders that have orchestrated the terrorist war against Israel, that not only is there no price to pay for their aggression, they are to be rewarded for it.
After all, unlike the road map, the Oslo agreements never overtly stated that a final settlement would involve Palestinian statehood.
While Israel is obligated by the road map to give tangible concessions in the form of withdrawals from Palestinian towns and freezing of construction in Israeli towns in the territories, the Palestinians are required only to regurgitate the same empty promises to combat terrorism they have been making for 10 years.
Even though the EU and UN have proven that they stand foursquare on the side of the PA in spite of its decision to wage a war of terrorist aggression, the road map, for the first time, grants both, as well as Russia, the role of arbiters who will determine for Israel whether the PA is abiding by its agreements.
There can be but two outcomes to the US determination to push Israel into negotiating with the PA on even worse terms than those that existed under Oslo. In the best case scenario, the road map will go the way of all previous documents from the Mitchell plan to the Tenet plan to the Zinni plan. That is, it will be forgotten in the wake of continued Palestinian aggression. In this case, its memory will serve to continue to militarily and diplomatically constrain Israel in acting to defend itself. The never-ending war of attrition will exact its high human and economic toll on our society. Palestinian terror forces will take heart from any indication that we are losing heart under the strain of their terrorism and work all the harder to find new ways to attack us.
The second possible outcome of the road map is that, in the framework of the fiction of PA reform under Abbas, a Palest
inian terrorist state will be established. This state will immediately destabilize the region in a manner similar to the Khomeini and Taliban regimes in Iran and Afghanistan. The security repercussions for the US of a terrorist state next to its chief strategic ally in the Levant will not be long in coming.
The most telling contrast between the US's strategic success in Iraq and its preordained strategic failure in the PA is in the identity of these policies' architects. While Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Gen. Tommy Franks are the fathers of the US policy in Iraq, Secretary of State Powell, who led the previous Bush administration down the garden path in Iraq, is the author of the administration's policy toward Israel and the PA.
The abject failure of Powell's strategies in Iraq and the PA has not gone unnoticed in Washington. Last week, the ideological fight between the opposing camps descended into open warfare as former House speaker Newt Gingrich called for a restructuring of the State Department, which he charged is undermining US interests. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage responded by calling Gingrich mentally ill.
Given the shrillness of the debate, there is no doubt that in spite of Wednesday's presentation of the road map, the last word on the matter has yet to be uttered in Washington.
At the same time, in anticipation of Powell's visit next week, the government should brace itself for a confrontation. While it would serve no purpose to descend into the rhetorical gutter with Armitage, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon should make it clear to Powell that while Israel respects the president, we will not fall on our sword to please the State Department.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.