Monday, November 26, 2007

Is There Hope In The Middle East? Perhaps Some

With Arab-Israeli talks, under the guidance of the United States, set for Annapolis this week, both the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times carry columns today registering a hopeful feeling that it's not impossible that something constructive could happen in them.

Both Roger Cohen in the New York Times and former negotiator Aaron David Miller in the L.A. Times express a belief that weariness on both sides, plus the facts that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have been holding extensive talks between themselves, and that President Bush feels the end of his term coming may help generate at least a beginning of a new attempt to resolve key issues. Mr. Bush now has fallen back on the old Carter and Clinton positions that it's worthwhile for the U.S. to exert a helpful push on both sides.

Also, a Syrian columnist close to the government of Bashar Assad writes today that the Syrian government is attending the Annapolis meeting because it does not feel it can afford to be left outside the tent in confidential discussions.

The danger of course is that the issues may once again prove intractable or that terrorists may strike, as they have in the past, to disrupt any constructive moves. There does, however, seem on both sides to be a willingness to discuss such issues as the future of Jerusalem, when there has not been before. Only Iran, at the moment, is sticking to a position of total intransigence.

Meanwhile, the New York Times ran two pieces Sunday on Iraq and Al-Qaeda that seemed highly worthwhile.

First and foremost was a long article in the New York Times magazine by the newspaper's recent Pulitzer Prize winner, Andrea Elliott, based on her courageous interviews in the Moroccan city of Tetouan with family and friends of several residents who joined the Jihadists, becoming involved either in the 2004 train bombings in Madrid, or the Al Qaeda insurgency in Iraq.

She traces at great length just what led to these youths becoming terrorists. But implicit in the whole long piece is that even in a radical bastion like this city, the actual number of people enticed into violence is small, and that many people in their families and in Tetouan in general have noticed that violent acts have succeeded in killing many more fellow-Muslims than Americans and other infidels. There seems, in these interviews, then, some rays of hope, some slight feeling that the terrorist movement has peaked, and that, like some kind of fever, it may diminish.

The Elliott piece, not at all polemical, an honest striving for the facts, cannot be too highly recommended. Everyone should read it. I don't think I'm reading a brighter edge to it than is justified.

Then, there is a column yesterday in the NYT by the somewhat changeable Thomas Friedman that holds there are somewhat encouraging signs that many Arabs are rethinking the cul de sac they have entered into of internecine strife. Yes, Hamas and Hezbollah still exist. But others are changing, and even Hamas and Hezbollah, while Iranian backed, sometimes seem a little less fanatic.

Not only does Friedman find signs of "illegal mingling" among Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq, but he observes, "From Gaza to Lebanon to Pakistan to Iraq there is a huge struggle going on today, primarily between Muslim sects, over who can mingle with whom."

The columnist notes that David Ignatius, a Washington Post writer, has even found signs in a recent Osama bin Laden audio that bin Laden feels it has been a "mistake" for Al Qaeda to adopt some of the brutal sectarian tactics it has in Iraq.

As Winston Churchill once said, upon the invasion of North Africa in World War II in 1942, "This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But perhaps it is the end of the beginning." In short, there are signs of some movement, that something besides war and violence is rearing its head. The work that our soldiers. Marines and intelligence operatives did late last year and early this year in Anbar province (where my own son served with the SEALS as an officer), encouraging a rising of Sunnis against Al-Qaeda, has borne some fruit everywhere in Iraq and may bear some more.

That is why I think it constructive for the U.S. to go ahead with both its military effort in Iraq, which is gaining, and its effort to bring a settlement in the Holy Land. Withdrawing, as some impatient American doves want, is not a good option for us, at a time, at long last, when there are rays of light ahead. And now is not the time when others, such as the Australians or Poles, to pull out their small forces.

Wars, particularly counterinsurgency wars, often take a long time. We have to be patient. It could be that things are beginning to move our way. Certainly, some seasoned Middle East correspondents, including the L.A. Times' Kim Murphy, have expressed the opinion that if the Arab-Israeli dispute could be settled, the hot air would go out of the terrorist movement.

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