“Israel has a right to defend itself,” said President Bush. And against whom was Israel defending itself at dawn on Monday?
A half blind and deaf paraplegic being wheeled out of a mosque after prayers, Sheik Ahmed Yassin was struck by missiles that blew him to pieces. In carrying out the assassination of the founder and spiritual leader of Hamas, Ariel Sharon used a U.S. Apache helicopter gunship. Thus, in Islamic eyes, we are passive accomplices in the killing.
Instantly, protests erupted in Mosul and Basra. Ayatollah al-Sistani, the Shi’ite leader on whom we depend for a peaceful transfer of power in Iraq, was enraged: “(T)his morning, the occupying Zionist entity committed an ugly crime against the Palestinian people by killing one of their heroes, scholar-martyr Ahmed Yassin.”
Sharon’s defenders say the sheik had sanctioned terror attacks on innocent Israelis. But why did Israel not then seize him, expose his complicity in murder, and put him in prison, as Israel had before? Why convert this crippled old sheik into a martyr-saint? Why enhance the prestige of Hamas?
Has the killing made Israel more secure? If so, why were Israeli buses deserted all week? Has it made us more secure? Why then were the travel advisories issued to Americans in the Middle East? Why are U.S. embassies shutting down? How does inflaming the Islamic world against us advance the president’s goal of persuading the world that Islam is not America’s enemy?
President Bush must begin to realize that his blind solidarity with Sharon, who has shown himself contemptuous of America’s interests in the larger region, is among the greatest crosses we have to bear in the war on terror.
A year after the fall of Baghdad, Bush’s men are boasting of his triumphs the overthrow of the Taliban, the liberation of Iraq, not one act of terror on U.S. soil in two years. But consider the war from bin Laden’s vantage point.
The murderous strike of 9-11 electrified America-haters, but produced blowback and near total disaster for bin Laden. In weeks, Bush had united a great coalition, smashed the Taliban and almost finished Osama himself at Tora Bora. Then came Iraq.
Here Bush played straight into bin Laden’s hand. By attacking a prostrate Arab nation that played no role in 9-11, we united Arab and Islamic peoples in hatred of America. We shattered alliances and ignited a guerrilla war.
According to a Pew poll, U.S. prestige in the Muslim world has never been lower. Bush is widely detested. In Pakistan, 65 percent of the people hold Osama in high regard, while 8 percent are positive on Bush. We are losing the hearts and minds of the Islamic young, creating a spawning pool out of which future terrorists will emerge.
Now, an attack in Madrid has left 200 dead and blown a hole in our coalition. A socialist has come to power who intends to pull Spanish troops out of Iraq. Poland, too, has begun to waver
As Bush wins battles, Osama advances toward his strategic goals: Demonization of America as the enemy of Islam, isolation of America as an imperialist aggressor against Arab nations and the enabler of Sharon, and unification of Islam’s young behind bin Laden’s ultimate war aim: the expulsion of America from all Muslim lands.
The legendary Col. John Boyd described strategy as appending to oneself as many centers of power as possible, while isolating one’s enemy from as many centers of power as possible.
Bush I did this brilliantly in the Gulf War, isolating Saddam. Bush II did it brilliantly in the Afghan war, isolating the Taliban. Now Bush has fallen into the trap his father avoided. He is letting Ariel Sharon create the perception that America’s war and Israel’s war are one and the same.
In the Middle East, Sharon has no friends. He does not care whom he alienates. But we are a world power with friend, allies and interests in 22 Arab and 57 Muslim countries.
To protect our interests, to win our war on Al Qaeda, it is imperative that we not let ourselves become as isolated as Israel is today.
Between America and Israel there are thus common interests and a collision of interests. Sharon does not want us to confine our war on terror to those who attacked us on 9-11. He wants us to expand our list of enemies to include his list of enemies: Arafat, Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia. He wants us to escalate “the firemen’s war” into an American war on Israel’s enemies, so, together, we can establish joint hegemony in the Middle East.
If Sharon and his acolytes in the Bush administration succeed in conflating Sharon’s war with America’s war, we could lose our war. Why cannot the president see what is going on?