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July 28, 2006
Christopher Teaches All The Wrong Lessons

Warren Christopher had two opportunities to influence foreign policy from the top. He served as Deputy Secretary of State for all of Jimmy Carter's term of office, and then as Secretary of State for Bill Clinton's first term. These periods will be best known, in terms of Islamists, as periods of American retreat. Christopher headed the negotiations that dragged the Iranian hostage crises to 444 days, as Carter refused to respond to an act of war with American strength and instead accepted the ongoing humiliation from Teheran. His tenure as Secretary of State comprised the Oslo fiasco, which bound Israel and created a protostate for Yasser Arafat, which he used to both enrich himself and launch multiple intifadas against the Israelis.

One might think that a former diplomat with this kind of track record would refrain from offering advice on Middle East conflict. However, Christopher takes to the pages of the Washington Post to instruct Condoleezza Rice and the Bush administration to take the Neville Chamberlain route once again -- because, and I'm not kidding, it worked so well in the past:

My own experience in the region underlies my belief that in the short term we should focus our efforts on stopping the killing. Twice during my four years as secretary of state we faced situations similar to the one that confronts us today. Twice, at the request of the Israelis, we helped bring the bloodshed to an end.

In June 1993, Israel responded to Hezbollah rocket attacks along its northern border by launching Operation Accountability, resulting in the expulsion of 250,000 civilians from the southern part of Lebanon.

After the Israeli bombardment had continued for several days, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin asked me to use my contacts in Syria to seek their help in containing the hostilities. I contacted Foreign Minister Farouk Shara, who, of course, consulted with Syrian President Hafez al-Assad. After several days of urgent negotiations, an agreement was reached committing the parties to stop targeting one another's civilian populations. We never knew exactly what the Syrians did, but clearly Hezbollah responded to their direction.

In April 1996, when Hezbollah again launched rocket attacks on Israel's northern border, the Israelis countered with Operation Grapes of Wrath, sending 400,000 Lebanese fleeing from southern Lebanon. Errant Israeli bombs hit a U.N. refugee camp at Cana in southern Lebanon, killing about 100 civilians and bringing the wrath of international public opinion down upon Israel.

This time Shimon Peres, who had become prime minister after the assassination of Rabin, sought our help. In response, we launched an eight-day shuttle to Damascus, Beirut and Jerusalem that produced a written agreement bringing the hostilities to an end. Weeks later, the parties agreed to a border monitoring group consisting of Israel, Syria, Lebanon, France and the United States. Until three weeks ago, that agreement had succeeded for 10 years in preventing a wholesale resumption of hostilities.

What do these episodes teach us?

To any rational person, it would teach that temporary cease-fires have benefitted the terrorists and impeded any long-term solutions to the problem of the Islamist impulse. Instead, Christopher uses this litany of failure as proof that his cease-fire approach works, and urges Israel and the US to travel that road again.

Anyone who has studied the inept diplomatic moves of the last four decades has to come to grips with one immutable fact: the terrorists and their sponsors want Israel destroyed. The cease-fires imposed by outside forces has never tempered that desire in the least. Egypt and Jordan opened diplomatic relations not because of any cease-fire, but because the moderate governments of those states finally saw the futility of fighting and losing to Israel. The terrorists and their sponsors have not seen that; the West keeps imposing cease-fires as soon as they start losing, pulling their chestnuts out of the fire before they even get warm.

Repeating this process yet again just postpones the inevitable. Syria and Iran -- especially Iran -- want to see Israel destroyed, and they will continue to arm Hezbollah to achieve that goal, especially since it costs them so little to do so. After this cease-fire ends, Hezbollah will provoke another war, one for which they have better preparation. And time is not a neutral force in this conflict: if the cease-fires continue long enough, Iran will have a nuclear weapon for Hezbollah to shoot at Israel.

The time for resolution has come. Cease-fires have not solved anything in this region, and we cannot wait for Iran and Syria to grow up. Israel has to put Hezbollah into a position where it can no longer provoke war, and the world has to force Syria and Iran to end its proxy war. Leaving Hezbollah in the field provides the means for future war, not peace. Christopher and his appeasement remain part of the problem, not the solution.

UPDATE: Mona Charen makes a too-rare appearance at The Corner to remind us that Israel has tried Christopher's advice on a number of occasions. They have not given a full-blown military response to provocations since Oslo (1993, on Christopher's watch) until this month. They withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, and Gaza from 2005. Has this made Hezbollah and Hamas more amenable to peaceful coexistence? Has it had any salutary effect on Israel's security at all?

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at July 28, 2006 8:37 AM

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