"Resolved: That the U.S. government should substantially increase security assistance to one or more of the following countries: Israel, Egypt, Syria, Jordan and the Palestinian National Authority." This is the national collegiate debate topic for the coming academic year, and it is driving thousands of students to the back issues of this journal. These sharp thinkers, from Harvard to Stanford to Michigan to Georgia, some of them with little previous involvement in this question, are preparing to present arguments for both sides of it before audiences of teachers, other students and judges. In the past week, four university debate coaches visiting Washington to gather material have told me that Middle East Policy is the mother lode of information and analysis for their teams.
It is gratifying to know that the articles and reviews published here over the past 13 years, written by some of the best minds in government and academia on virtually every topic relevant to Middle East security assistance, are reaching a new audience. Each generation, free from some of the constraints of the past, must work to define U.S. interests, rationalize policy and wait for opportunities to act. It is hard for governments to chip foreign-policy bedrock in light of new ideas or revised analysis. They usually wait for disasters or windfalls or rare tectonic shifts that might create openings for change. Thus the United States lurched from the Cold War to the Gulf War to the Madrid peace process-and did not enter the fray in Bosnia until so late in the day.
The subject matter in this double issue of the journal runs the gamut of Middle East topics currently disturbing the sleep of U.S. policy makers: Iran, Islamism, Israel-Palestine, nuclear weapons, economic instability and tribal strife. Three of the articles are proceedings of symposiums held by the Middle East Policy Council during the last few months, featuring government officials and interlocutors from universities and think tanks in addition to members of the foreign-policy community in Washington. One of the meetings was a round-table discussion on whether the Palestinian Authority should declare a state of Palestine now, partly as a hedge against the return of a Likud government in 1996. The author of this proposal, Jerome Segal of the University of Maryland and the Jewish Peace Lobby, presented it to both Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat at separate meetings in April. The Council round table with Dr. Segal, the PLO representative in Washington and eight other analysts reveals how specialists examine policy questions and how difficult it is to transfer sovereignty from one political entity to another.
In the other two proceedings, the National Security Council directors in charge of the Middle East, Ellen Laipson and David Satterfield, offer their informed opinions, some of which are revealing both for what is said and for what is left unsaid. It is harder to be an actor than a critic, and we appreciate the contribution of administration officials to Council forums. They enhance the content greatly, occasionally responding to sharp criticism of the government line with some rather forthcoming comments. There is, of course, only so much they can say or do about policies they may disagree with. The decision makers above them are burdened not only with the weight of commitments made by predecessors and received ideas about national interests and honor but with the realities of domestic politics, particularly as they involve Israel.
Much of Israel's nation-building history is obscured in the United States by a veil of political correctness woven from images of the Holocaust, guilt over discrimination against American Jews, and the need to please a powerful political constituency (see Donald Neff's article on the early years of the Zionist movement). But it is openly discussed in Israel. In August, Israeli military historian Aryeh Yitzhaki revealed shocking evidence of mass killings of Egyptian prisoners of war in both the 1956 and 1967 Sinai campaigns. Of course. like other countries, Israel commits atrocities during war. If it had not claimed a "purity of arms," war-crimes charges would be less acutely embarrassing for both Israel and its U.S. patron.
But no matter what dark revelations come out of the Israeli military archives, the suicide attacks by Palestinians overshadow them. And they deepen the fear of Islamist terror among Americans, who are steadily propagandized to hunker down with Israel in an us-against-the Muslims posture. Even after the responsibility for the Oklahoma City bombing had been traced to "Christian" criminals, The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed diatribe by a so-called terrorism expert on the Islamic fundamentalist danger to America, as if the non-Muslim attack were an exception that made the rule more obvious. This demonization of Islamists makes it very inconvenient to study their ideas. An article in this journal describes some of the obstacles faced by a University of South Florida professor who has struggled against official policy to bring Islamist leaders to the United States for scholarly encounters with critics (see also the round table he chaired at USF with Hasan Turabi in Middle East Policy, Volume I, 1992, Number 3).
When open discussion is difficult even for universities to manage, very little can be expected of the advertising-dependent media-or Congress. The conservative tum in American politics has emboldened a small number of powerful Likud-supporting American Jews to abandon the longstanding consensus policy that forced the Council of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations to support the Begin and Shamir governments for 15 years. There used to be an unwritten rule that American Jews must publicly support the policies of the elected government of Israel, period. The anti-peace splinter group, apparently taking orders from Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, is finding ideological resonance with the new Republican leadership in Congress. They are promoting congressional initiatives to make the Palestine Authority jump through absurdly small accountability hoops, to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, and to bar U.S. troops from being stationed on the Golan Heights. These efforts seem aimed at sabotaging peace in order to usher back into office the party that drove U.S.-Israel relations to a new low in 1992.
Fortunately, a counter response has come from the only quarter that could successfully balance the equation: pro-peace Jewish organizations. And since there is no consensus in the Council of Presidents on what is good for Israel in this instance, the Clinton administration has been liberated to decide the issues partly on merit. Sadly, not one member of Congress has spoken publicly in support of the Jewish peace groups.
Welcome, college debaters, to the labyrinth.