(Washington, D.C.): Here we go again. Another week in the run-up to the 1998 elections.
Another “breakthrough” or two to defuse a pending international crisis — ostensibly
demonstrating the viability of Bill Clinton’s presidency and his successful stewardship of the
United States’ international portfolio.
Cases in Point
The problem is that, as with everything this President does, the deal more or less in hand on
Kosovo and the one expected by week’s end between the Israelis and Palestinians are utter frauds.
The accords they entail will produce naught but the shortest of short-term public
benefits (the signing ceremonies, handshakes, laudatory editorials, etc.) at the expense of
long-term U.S. interests.
Take the case of the Kosovo agreement (if a diplomatic product that is missing as many
critical details as this one is can be called that). As with last February’s agreement brokered with
Saddam Hussein by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, special envoy Richard
latest negotiations with Slobodan Milosevic have made further bloodshed more likely,
To be sure, in both cases, the can has been kicked down the road. But the Butchers of
and Belgrade understand that, having negotiated themselves out from under the impending threat
of U.S. and/or multilateral air strikes, it will be much harder for the Clinton Administration to
mobilize international opinion — or even domestic support — for such action the next time around.
In the meantime, the international prestige and perceived durability of these ruthless
dictators is enhanced by the mere act of negotiating with them. (Arguably, Milosevic is
a going concern today thanks to the legitimation he received when Holbrooke transformed him
from war criminal to peacemaker as the price for securing at Dayton yet another of the Clinton
team’s pyrrhic diplomatic victories.)(1) Thus emboldened,
they can be expected in due course to
lash out again at innocent civilians (their own or others) and pursue agendas that threaten the
strategic interests of the United States.
The bottom line is that, for seven months, Milosevic has perpetrated and essentially
“ethnic cleansing” of the Kosovar Albanians. Once again, Holbrooke is intervening in a way that
freezes in place the Serb leader’s gains. Just as the Dayton agreement prevented Croat and
Bosnian Muslim forces from rolling up Milosevic’s troops and proxies in Bosnia, the new
arrangement may protect Serb military and paramilitary units from retaliation.
The introduction of “verifiers” whose safety and effectiveness will not be ensured by NATO
military personnel means that there can be no more confidence in their work than in that of a
hamstrung UNSCOM in Iraq. And the unworkability of this situation — especially when it is
compounded by the inability, as a practical matter, of refugees to return to their homes — almost
certainly means that the Holbrooke deal will not long survive the November elections.
No less shortsighted is the deal the Clinton Administration is about to foist on Israel.
again, the President’s obsession with securing favorable publicity will be temporarily satisfied by
the hullabaloo surrounding a Wye Plantation deal. But the costs associated with this deal are
extremely high: Thanks to Washington’s euchring of its Israeli allies, the Jewish State
surrender territory the Palestinians need to declare a sovereign ministate. Too small to be
viable economically or to satisfy Arafat’s political ambitions, this entity will nonetheless be
sufficiently large to serve as a secure base for terrorism and regional instability, one that
will threaten Jordan and Israel and, in due course, likely precipitate another Mideast
Once again, this transaction is vintage Clinton. The Oslo agreement has not worked out.
Arafat remains, like Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic, a thug whose word cannot be
trusted. He has not complied with his previous agreements. The United States has not only
excused Arafat from doing so; it has actually rewarded him for not
complying by securing
additional territory from Israel for the Palestinian authority. There is, consequently, no reason to
believe Arafat will prove more tractable and responsible in the future.
This is especially likely since the Clinton Administration has repeatedly broken faith with
As an inducement to the Netanyahu government to enter into the Hebron agreement, the U.S.
promised two things: First, in a formal note-for-the-record, Mideast Special Envoy
Ross identified specific areas in which the PLO has failed to live up to its
the Oslo agreement (notably, by failing to eliminate the 30-some provisions of its “National
Charter” that called for the destruction of Israel and jihad against the Jews). This
also pledged American assistance in assuring future Palestinian compliance.
Second, in a separate side letter, the United States averred that the timing and extent
future troop redeployments and surrender of territory would be up to the Israelis. But
agreement that is expected to be completed this week at Wye was essentially dictated by
Washington. Madeleine Albright’s temper tantrums, threats and deadlines ultimately
the intended effect: domestic political pressure on Prime Minister Netanyahu to make the
demanded concessions. Once Arafat decided that he would earn President Clinton’s lasting
gratitude by agreeing, prior to the 1998 elections, to accept the thirteen percent of the West Bank
(10% outright, plus 3% in a so-called “demilitarized” nature preserve) the Israelis were forced to
surrender, the outcome was preordained.
Most worrisome of all is the fact that, in the course of these negotiations, the Palestinians
perceived an opportunity to drive a wedge between Israel and its most important supporter, the
United States: It is no longer necessary for the PLO to talk to Israel directly; the U.S. will
intervene to extract concessions from Israel. This perception has caused problems in the past and
threatens to prove explosive in the future.
Specifically, a disaster looms on the horizon over the status of Jerusalem.
otherwise, the Clinton Administration has encouraged the Arabs to believe that it will support
Palestinian efforts to redivide Israel’s historical capital city. It has done so by symbolic actions
(for example, by failing to situate the American embassy there — in violation of U.S. law href=”#N_2_”>(2)) and by
its rhetoric about Palestinian statehood (notably, Mrs. Clinton’s clearly orchestrated endorsement
a few months back)(3). The cumulative effect has
done nothing to dampen PLO expectations
that East Jerusalem will ultimately serve as the capital of such an entity. Israel cannot live
with such an outcome; if the U.S. aligns itself with the Palestinians on the question, the
chances for war increase measurably, a war into which America will almost certainly be
The Bottom Line
Like the cartoon character Wimpy, who was always willing to
promise to “pay you
Tuesday, for a hamburger today,” Bill Clinton is indulging his proclivity for expedient,
near-term self-gratification without regard for the serious long-term costs the Nation will
be obliged to bear as a result. Such fraudulent deal-making has not “contained” Saddam
Hussein or denuclearized North Korea. It will not prevent Slobodan Milosevic from engaging in
further genocide or aggression when he so chooses. It will, however, probably endanger the
United States’ most reliable and important friend in the Middle East — an outcome no amount of
pre-election “bump” in the polls can justify.
– 30 –
1. See the Center’s Decision Brief entitled
Captain Holbrooke Heads for the Lifeboats — but
Fails to Sound the Alarm as the Dayton Ship Goes Down ( href=”index.jsp?section=papers&code=96-D_18″>No. 96-D 18, 21 February 1996).
2. See ‘Happy Birthday, Jerusalem’: Congress Affirms
You Are the Unified Capital
Exclusively of Israel (No. 95-D 81, 25
October 1995) and Blessed Be the Peacemakers, for
They Shall Move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem ( href=”index.jsp?section=papers&code=95-D_78″>No. 95-D 78, 19 October 1995).