Sunday, February 27, 2005

Middle East Problems

It's quite amazing what has transpired since 9/11/2001. In barely 3 1/2 years, the middle east has seen breathtaking and historic change. Before we were attacked, there was only one middle east country (Israel) that the U.S. would consider an ally. Not coincidentally, Israel was also the only free and democratic country in the middle east.

But since 9/11, Afghanistan has been liberated from the Taliban's ruthless control. It is now a democratic country. Al Qaeda is still operating in Afghanistan (and in many other countries), but at a dramatically reduced capacity and not with the outright cooperation of the Afghan government.

Pakistan, the only country on earth that recognized the Taliban's authority, has done a 180 degree about-face and become a strategic ally in the GWOT. President Pervez Musharraf has even visited the White House. Pakistan has delivered high profile terrorists, which suggests that their cooperation is indeed genuine.

Saddam Hussein was ousted as Iraq's dictator and Iraq is on the road to recovery. Like Afghanistan, Iraq also recently conducted their first free elections in decades. Iraq is a long way from being peaceful, prosperous and stable, but positive and significant progress is being made.

Israel is safer today than it has been in many years. The continued construction of their safety barrier has prevented many Palestinian suicide bombings (though not all--one occurred Friday in Tel Aviv). The death of Yasser Arafat ushered in a new era of peace possibilities (at least now we have a possibility of peace, which was not true while Arafat ruled the Palestinian Authority).

This week has seen protest marches in Lebanon, similar to Ukraine's recent Orange Revolution," demanding that Syria get its troops out of their country. Some Lebanese even held signs requesting a U.S. military invasion to help rid them of the Syrians.

Yesterday Egypt announced that it too will soon have free elections. This is another huge victory for the Bush administration and further proof that it's foreign policy toward the middle east is working.

Yet there is still much work to do in the middle east. Much more, in fact, than what has already been accomplished. Last week I briefly discussed Iran and their advancing nuclear weapons ambitions. President Bush made Iran, along with Iraq and North Korea, charter members in the "Axis of Evil." And this brings us, finally, to Syria.

Syria and Iran have announced that the two countries have entered into a defensive agreement or as I call it, "an unholy alliance." Iran is a well known and oft reported supporter of terrorism in the region. Syria has probably done as much as Iran, maybe more, to destabilize the middle east. Syrian sponsored terrorism has been the biggest problem in Iraq, as we continue to fight the insurgency there. Israel announced today that they have proof that Syria was behind Friday's suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. It is also pretty much accepted worldwide that Syria was behind last week's car bombing in Lebanon, which killed Lebanon's former prime minister, Rafik Hariri.

We also know that Russia has been involved for years both in helping build and defending Iran's nuclear program. Today, in fact, the Russians announced that they will be supplying Iran with nuclear fuel. Russia is also helping arm Syria with missiles that could target Israel, by the way.

So where does that leave us right now? Unfortunately, still with a lot of work to do in the region. Above all we must continue our support of Israel. We all know President Bush is committed to doing that. It is my belief that we need to continue our efforts in the rebuilding of both Iraq and Afghanistan. He will do that too. We must encourage peaceful democratic reforms in Egypt, Lebanon and the Palestinian areas. And we must engage Russia with the intent of discouraging their passive/aggressive and hostile efforts in both Iran and Syria. We should not eliminate the option of military action in either Iran or Syria if diplomatic efforts fail (this is more likely a matter of when, not if).

These middle east problems have been around for years. Left unattended, they will continue to worsen like a cancer. It would be morally wrong and a strategic disaster in terms of U.S. security to not address these problems in the middle east. Democratic change is coming to the region. Some countries, like Iraq and Afghanistan, required the military option. Some, like Egypt and Pakistan, did not. It remains to be seen whether or not Iran and Syria will force military solutions, though it seems increasingly obvious that's the way we are headed.

I think we're on the right track, despite the huge amount of work still to do. What I fear most is continued resistance from President Bush's opponents and their "willing accomplices" in the mainstream press. These folks have a twisted notion that all war is wrong, and their opposition is patriotic, but that is a discussion best left for another day.
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