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Dealing With Arab Ire Will Save American Lives

18 April 2002

Are you safer now than you were seven months ago?

At airports around the country, authorities are screening new security screeners by the thousands. In Beirut, mobs greeted Secretary of State Colin Powell in the streets with cries of "We loathe America" and "Powell, get out of here!"

On Long Island, officials are warning anyone who plans to attend the U.S. Open golf tournament at Bethpage State Park to forget about bringing anything with them - no knapsacks, no cameras, no water bottles. Fanny packs, the only allowable bags, will be searched.

On the island of Bahrain - a usually quiescent place that is home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet - protesters this month scaled the walls of the American embassy, smashing windows and torching vehicles, before being turned back with the help of Marines.

In Lexington, Va., President George W. Bush yesterday declared that progress in the war on terror "is measured day by day, terrorist by terrorist." In London, two Arab newspapers reported that a group with possible connections to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida has claimed responsibility for blowing up a historic synagogue in Tunisia, killing 16, including 11 German tourists. The group, the Islamic Army for the Liberation of the Holy Sites, also claimed responsibility for the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa.

Are we safer now than we were seven months ago? Are we more secure, now that the streets of Arab capitals seethe with protesters spewing hatred not only against Israel, but against us? Are the Saudis now more or less likely to change the curriculum - if you can call it that - in the schools that preach hatred of Americans and call for vengeance against the infidels?

"For the Muslim world, the most important event is not Sept. 11," said Ivo H. Daalder, a senior foreign policy analyst at the Brookings Institution. "It is the intifada."

You can blame Arafat, if you choose. You can blame Sharon, if you wish. You can argue that the latest intifada in the Mideast, followed by the election of Ariel Sharon as Israel's prime minister, made it infinitely more difficult for any American president to broker a settlement, or even to try.

But you cannot say anyone ever promised the presidency of the United States was an easy job.

The failure of Powell's diplomatic mission to produce any concrete steps toward a cease-fire, let alone progress toward peace, isn't really his. It is profoundly broader, and more dangerous, than anyone is willing to let on.

"The tragedy is [that] from the first day it came into office ... the Bush administration did not deal with the fundamental cause of anti-American terrorism and that is, of course, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict," said Richard Hrair Dekmejian, a University of Southern California professor and author of "Islam in Revolution." Dekmejian said "future bin Ladens, in different form, are forming right now as we talk."

The administration did not want to dirty its hands with the bloody soil of the Mideast. That would be too Clintonesque. The place was too distant, it seemed, to the Bush foreign policy agenda - even after Sept. 11. And it was so unlikely to produce a public-relations success.

You can complain that the Arabs get their news from biased outlets whose cameras linger on broken Palestinian homes and bloodied Palestinian corpses, but not on the scattered limbs of Israeli victims of terror. You can decry the double standard in which represssion by Arab governments of their own people is accepted as business-as-usual, while repression by the Israeli military is condemned.

But you cannot say the American government did not know - or somehow could not have known - that there is is a connection between the raging conflict in the Mideast and the rage against us.

This is the real and present danger. It's not that the Europeans think we're simpletons. Not that we are Israel's steadfast supporter - we always have been and the world has always known it. It's not even that we've squandered U.S. prestige abroad, for that is almost a given, from time to time.

The initial policy of willful blindness toward the Mideast conflict failed. Now that our eyes are open, perhaps the administration will see that aggressive involvement for peace doesn't just serve American "interests." It can save American lives.

Marie Cocco
Published in the Long Island Newsday (New York) © 2002 Newsday, Inc

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