Archive for February, 1991

[Originally published in the Burlington Free Press.]

The real issue now is not how we got into o the Persian Gulf War, but what happens when it is over and who the winners and losers will be.

Will the outcome be clear cut enough to answer that question?

If the United States suffers heavy casualties, it will pay the attendant political and economic costs as well.  On the other hand, if we force the Iraqis quickly and conclusively out of Kuwait without suffering extensive casualties, we will be able to claim that we have won.

However, if Iraqi President Saddam Hussein remains in charge of his country- regardless of the damage he sustains – he will be considered to have won by his own people and by most of Arabs as well.

The only clear-cut winners will be Iran and Israel.  Iran will win because we will have accomplished what it could not in eight years of war with Iraq – the destruction of the Iraqi military machine.  This will give the Iranians clear advantage in their quest for dominance in the Gulf.

Israel will win because if we had not gotten involved in this war, Israel would likely have faced a nuclear-armed Iraq at some point in the next five years.  Now they won’t have to take on the Iraqis themselves.

Our Arab allies in the Gulf will be on the winning side if we win, but only if they are not destabilized by their own citizens after the war.  There were pro-Iraq demonstrations by over 300,000 people in Morocco on Feb 3.  Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states also appear vulnerable to destabilization as well as Lebanon and perhaps Syria.

Why are there so many variables?  The answer is quite simple – Palestine.  There will be neither peace nor stability in the Middle East until the Palestinians have a homeland.

Arabs aw well as many Westerners and some Israelis feel that Israel’s refusal to address this issue is unjust.  It is the only issue that unites the Arabs.  The unflinching U.S. support of Israeli policy has made Arabs angry and frustrated with the United States as well.

For over 40 years, since the Palestinians lost their homeland in the wars of 1948 and 1967, we have ignored their legitimate aspirations for their own homeland.

We are told over and over that the situation in Kuwait was important enough to our national interests to have us commit more than 5000,000 of our citizens and tens of billions of dollars to the war.  If it’s that important, we cannot pack our bags and come home afterward without trying to bring some stability to the region.

The Palestinians have hurt themselves horribly in the United States buy supporting Saddam.  The fact that they have done so is a measure of their desperation.

U.S public opinion has always strongly supported Israel.

Americans have not forgotten the Holocaust.  Until very recently, Israel has been able to manipulate U.S. policy in the Middle East so that it has always served Israeli interests, but not necessarily our own.  Out interest now must be stability.

There is pretty good reason to believe that the Arab states would sign a peace treaty with Israel guaranteeing its border in exchange for return of the occupied territories to their pre-1967 owners; creation of a demilitarized Palestinian state on the west Bank and a change in the status of Jerusalem.

The Unites States should certainly support that solution and should be prepared to act as a guarantor to it.

The problem is that the Israelis are no0t interested.  Israeli policy, particularly under the Shamir administration, has been to move settlers to East Jerusalem and the West Bank.  The purpose has been to establish some sort of permanent, legitimate Israeli presence there.

Given our past unflinching support of Israel on the Palestine issue and our demonstrated national interest in the area, it would serve us well to lead the way to an equitable solution of the Palestine problem.

This will not be an easy course.  There will be much Israeli resistance.  The Intifada, or Palestinian uprising, and Palestinian support of Iraq have further polarized feelings.

Now we “owe” the Israelis for staying out of the Gulf war.  In repayment, will we be asked to ignore the Palestine problem?

The United States is unequivocally Israel’s best friend in the world and perhaps the only country with enough influence to move the Israelis toward peace.  Do we have the resolve to put that kind of pressure on an old friend?

If we don’t get involved, or if we obstruct a solution as we have in the past, we will have to fold our tent and go home.  That will almost certainly bring instability to the Middle East and International terrorism.

The Middle East is America’s tarbaby.  Having made the major commitment of a war against Iraq, we now have one hand stuck in the tar.  The only way to let go of that tarbaby is to find an equitable solution to the Palestine problem.  If we can’t or won’t do that, there are likely to be hard times for us ahead.

Haviland Smith of Brookfield spent 24 years as a Soviet bloc specialist at the Central Intelligence Agency, including time in Tehran and Beirut.

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