A Question of Guts
The United States is about to be entangled in Afghanistan.
Gone is the idea that it is possible to vanquish the Taliban by aerial
bombardment. Gone is the illusion that some tribal fighters, who were
given the grandiose name of the "Northern Coalition", could put up a
real fight, much as the Israelis lost the illusion that the Phalangists
would really fight for them in Lebanon. Gone is the hope that local
warlords would betray the Taliban and join the Americans.
The Taliban can rely on three formidable sources of strength: tough
Afghan patriotism that has in the past beaten the British Empire and the
Soviet superpower; extreme Islamic fanaticism; and the tribal loyalty of
the Pashtun, the largest group in the country.
The very poverty of the mountainous country constitutes a forbidding
obstacle to any invader. Afghanistan may turn out to be a second
Vietnam. It may suck the American army in, causing it to sink into the
morass of an exhausting war of attrition. The aim is too elusive, with
no end in sight. And in the meantime Osama bin Laden – he or someone
else of his kind – will exploit the growing sympathy for him in the Arab
and Muslim world in order to commit more and more severe acts of
terrorism in the vulnerable United States.
In this situation, America will need even more to attract to its side
the Arab masses and to fortify the pro-American Arab regimes that are
needed for the war-coalition. That means: putting an end to the Israeli
occupation that poisons the region and settling, once and for all, the
Ariel Sharon has already shown that he is determined to sabotage this
process. He openly challenges the Bush administration and tells him:
Let’s see who’ll blink first.
One could argue that this is direct help for the Taliban, spiking the
wheels of the American war machine at a critical time. Sharon doesn’t
care. It is much more important for him to keep the settlements where he
put them and to prevent the establishment of the Palestinian State Bush
Thus the Bush-Sharon contest joins the Bush-Taliban one. But perhaps
the decisive contest will take place in America itself: between Bush and
the pro-Israel lobby.
This lobby is indeed a mighty force. It is enough to stay a few days in
New-York and Washington to gain a healthy respect for its potency. Just
as an illustration: last week I took part, as an Israeli peace-camp
activist, in a press-conference arranged on Capitol Hill with the
participation of members of Congress. The aim was to support the appeal
by Israeli and American-Jewish peace organizations urging the US
government to come forward with a resolute peace initiative for the
Middle East, as a part of the war against terrorism. Dozens of
Congressmen and Congresswomen had promised to attend, but in the end
only four gave their support. The others were frightened off by the
When I got to the place, I was astounded by the number of reporters who
were there. A battery of TV cameras was focused on the podium, the
representatives of some of the most important media had come, too. The
press conference itself was not enough for them, they stood around for a
long time afterwards, asking me questions.
The same thing happened the next day. At the Press Club, journalists
from almost all the important American newspapers and newspaper-chains
came and questioned me at length about our analyses and proposals.
What of all of this appeared in the media? You have guessed right: not
a single word. The lobby has frightened the glorious, free American
media, notwithstanding the fact that the subject concerns the basic
national interest of their country at this critical juncture.
That is Bush’s real test: Does he have the guts to fight Sharon and his
supporters in the Congress and the media?
When I visited the State Department on the same day, I found that
people there were skeptical. They all understood where the essential
interest of the United States lie, but not all were convinced that
Collin Powell’s determined attitude would win the day.
If Bush remains steadfast, he will perceive that all over the United
states new Jewish peace groups have sprung up to challenge the lobby,
demanding an American peace initiative. The voice of the Israeli peace
movement is also attracting attention.
But at the end of the day, there remains a simple question: Is there
enough political courage in Washington for the start of a peace
initiative that will serve the national interests of the United States,
as well as the real interests of Israel and Palestine?