A Real (But Civil!) Debate On The Middle East

It seems to be virtually an
accepted part of the national consensus that sooner or
later the United States is going to go to war against
Iraq and the sooner, the better. It`s also part of the
consensus that the United States should remain engaged
in the Middle East and on the side of the Israelis.

How these concepts got to be part
of the national consensus is another story, but no one
seems to debate them today.

Well, almost no one. In fact, last
week one of the most stimulating and important debates
over these very issues

was joined
in Washington. It wasn`t between

or administration officials, but mainly
between columnist Pat Buchanan on one side and the
pro-Israel faction on the other.

Not surprisingly, the public debate
won little press attention, probably because it actually
applied reason to matters much of the press doesn`t want
reasoned out.

Mr. Buchanan, well-known for his
criticisms of our Middle East policies and his proposals
for a post-cold war foreign policy of limited American
involvement abroad, sided with columnist

Robert Novak

Richard Perle
of the American Enterprise Institute
and Middle East expert

Reuel Gerecht,
formerly with the

, at a debate sponsored by Mr. Buchanan`s think
tank, the American Cause. The first topic debated was
"Should the U.S. invade Iraq?"

The case for invasion was made by
Mr. Perle and Mr. Gerecht, who argued that Iraq

is seeking or already has
weapons of mass
destruction, that it may give these weapons to terrorist
groups, and that terrorists armed with them might then
launch massive attacks on the United States or other
American targets that would make
Sept. 11 look like a fender bender on the Beltway.
Mr. Perle was also emphatic that Iraq already supports
terrorism and may have had a role in the Sept. 11
attacks themselves.

Mr. Buchanan and Mr. Novak
questioned all of the above. The two journalists
demanded to know what Saddam Hussein had done to
threaten the United States or its extensions abroad and
what evidence there is for Iraqi support for terrorism

Mr. Perle assured everyone, as

chairman of the Defense Department`s Policy Board,

he knows of lots of evidence for such support but
couldn`t disclose it because it`s secret.

Mr. Buchanan wanted to know what
other nations we should be invading, since not a few
with whom we have fairly close trade or diplomatic
for one—have human rights records at least as dismal
as Saddam`s. 

As for weapons of mass destruction,
he pointed out that Stalin and Mao Tse-tung had them
too. Saddam himself has them, in the form of poison gas
that he used against his own people in the 1980s, but
the point is that none of these tyrants use such weapons
against the United States. They don`t use them against
us, Mr. Buchanan insisted, because they knew or know
today what will happen if they do—they and their nasty
little regimes would be obliterated by massive

Mr. Buchanan`s point was that by
the logic of his opponents, we should invade anywhere
and everywhere a foreign government is doing something
we don`t like or something that might someday somehow
threaten us. That`s a formula for perpetual war—and his
opponents said little to distance themselves from it.

In the second debate of the day,
Mr. Buchanan and columnist

Georgie Anne Geyer
took up the issue of "What role
should the U.S. play in the Middle East" against defense

Frank Gaffney
and columnist Tony Blankley.

Mr. Buchanan conceded that the
United States has a moral commitment to Israel`s
survival and security, but also insisted that

Palestinian statehood
is a just cause. Mr. Gaffney
argued, against this, that the Arabs generally and the
Palestinians in particular are determined to

exterminate Israel.

Miss Geyer, a lifelong Middle East
expert who actually knows main players like Yasser
Arafat and Saddam Hussein, insists that most Arabs,
including their leaders, now accept Israel. But the
problem with Mr. Gaffney`s case is that even if he`s
right (and he may well be), that hardly justifies
American involvement.

Mr. Blankley and Mr. Gaffney
conceded, for their part, that the United States
receives little return from its support for Israel. If
that`s so, then why should we involve ourselves in what
is essentially an irrepressible ethnic and religious
struggle that has no conclusion in view?

It`s rare in American public debate
to have an exchange as well-presented and as civil as
both sides in the

American Cause
debate offered. If American politics
and government operated this way, instead of by the
pathetic name-calling and smears that usually drive
discussions of the Middle East, we might actually
develop a real consensus for a real and useful foreign


May 06, 2002