BUSH AND IRAQ,
CLINTON AND SYRIA
These days, the pundits look back with disdain at America's pre-1991 policy toward Iraq. The Bush administration's supply of agricultural equipment that Iraq used for military purposes, Bush's tolerance of Iraqi development of unconventional weapons, the U.S. ambassador's failure to object when Iraqi officials hinted about
their designs on Kuwait--all these actions are now regarded as obviously mistaken in Congress and the media. It is easy to forget how different all these Monday morning quarterbacks were acting and speaking at the time--and it is easy to imagine America repeating its blunders, this time in Damascus.
In the years and even months prior to the Persian Gulf crisis, there were not many voices of opposition to Bush's coddling of Baghdad. Prominent Senators, who should have known better, visited Saddam Hussein and spoke of the need to be "pragmatic" in dealing with Iraq. The U.S. media almost universally ignored evidence of Saddam's massive military buildup. Iraq's verbal threats against Kuwait--and Israel--were dismissed as "rhetoric for domestic consumption."
And, in one of the many shocking but widely forgotten disasters that dot Yossi Beilin's record of political analysis, the Israeli Foreign Ministry (in a national unity government, with Shimon Peres and his proteges, Avraham Tamir and Yossi Beilin, running the Foreign Ministry) launched a leak-and-trial balloon campaign, in late 1987, to portray Iraq as having joined Egypt and Jordan in a bloc of "moderate" Arab states.
Two and a half years later, when Iraqi troops marched into Kuwait, all the proponents of "pragmatism" and "moderation" were nowhere to be found. Suddenly everyone was denouncing Saddam as evil. But they were years late, and Kuwait--and Israel--paid the price.
Will Israel pay the price once again, this time with Syria? American policy toward Syria under Clinton bears a frightening resemblance to American policy toward Iraq.
Syria's imperialistic designs--toward Lebanon and Israel--are overlooked. European trade with Syria continues without U.S. objections. Syria's massive purchases of the latest Scud missiles is winked at, as is its development of nuclear and biological weapons. Syria's sponsorship of terrorism is downplayed, as Clinton's aides try to focus all attention on Iran.
The fighting in Lebanon in April dramatically illustrated Clinton's coddle-and-wink policy toward Syria. Hezbollah cannot fire a rocket at the Galilee without Syrian approval. Hezbollah cannot maintain bases in southern Lebanon without Syrian acquiescence. Hezbollah members cannot move about in Lebanon--amidst 40,000 Syrian occupation
troops--without Syrian assent. The latest Hezbollah rocket assaults on northern Israel could only have taken place with Syrian connivance. Yet the Clinton administration, and its media allies, said virtually nothing about Syrian complicity. They seem determined to go easy on Hafez Assad in the hope of achieving a Syrian-Israeli agreement based on Israeli surrender of the Golan Heights and American removal of Syria from the terrorist list so that Damascus can receive U.S. aid.
But giving land and money to Arab dictators won't bring peace--it only whets their appetite for more. The Persian Gulf fiasco should have made that clear. Appeasing Saddam opened the door to Iraq's devastation of Kuwait. One shudders at the thought of what appeasing Assad will produce.
Herbert Zweibon is chairman of Americans for A Safe Israel.