Iraq's Odious Debts

Next steps in the Middle East

U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel, World Affairs Council
Washington File, USA
May 20, 2003

The end of Saddam Hussein’s regime offers the prospect for a new era of hope and opportunity in the Middle East. But that path is far from assured.

America and her allies face difficult decisions in a part of the world that has moved from periphery to center in our geo-political strategy. The terrorist attacks over the past week — in Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and Israel — have given new urgency to our efforts to bring security and lasting peace to the Middle East. The instability and violence in Iraq and Afghanistan show that these areas remain complicated, unpredictable, and dangerous, even after deposing the brutal regimes of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein.

The scope of the challenge and risk that we face in the Middle East is immense. But so is the opportunity. Setting this region right will require a commitment and focus that will test our leadership, resources, and alliances. We must strengthen those alliances that have served America and the world so well during the last 50 years, and build new ones.

We cannot step back from the Middle East. Our interests in defeating international terrorism, halting the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and protecting our vital interests, all depend on our success in rebuilding and re-shaping alliances and international institutions. What we do in the Middle East, and how we do it, will have profound implications for global security.

Real long-term security in Iraq and the region requires that a peace process is initiated, sustained, and completed between Israel and her Arab neighbors. President Bush understands this linkage, as did his father, 12 years ago. The Madrid process, authored by President George H.W. Bush in October 1991, began a decade of progress between Israel and her Arab neighbors, including the Oslo Accords and the Israeli-Jordanian peace agreement. While much maligned today, that era reminds us of how close we once were, and how far we may now be, to a lasting peace in the Middle East.

The legacy of peacemakers is a legacy of courage and perseverance. But, ironically, it can also be a legacy of tragedy for those who take the risks for peace. Today, there can be no lasting peace, no lasting security for Americans, Israelis, and Arabs, without a willingness to take risks and make the tough choices. There are no easy choices in peacemaking. Presidents Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush made the tough choices for Middle East peace, but their historic achievements were overshadowed by other issues when their turns came for re-election.

Anwar Sadat and Yitzakh Rabin both paid with their lives for their commitments to making peace in the Middle East. Making peace is not about giving a good speech. It is putting everything on the line for a purpose greater than parochial or political self-interests.

America’s re-engagement with the Middle East began on September 11, 2001. We cannot understand where we are today without understanding the effect of that day on America. From that day forward, the Middle East and the Islamic world became the focus of our national security. And in dealing with al-Qaeda and international terrorism, we again learned the value of global alliances. The international response to the war on terrorism reflects recognition of the common threats that face all mankind, and the role of American leadership in defeating these threats. Our successes in breaking up al-Qaeda cells and capturing their leaders have depended on close coordination with our allies in many areas: diplomatic; intelligence; economic; humanitarian; military; and law enforcement.

Afghanistan has not gone as we had hoped. While the Taliban no longer rules, the government of President Hamid Karzai has gained little ground. Warlords, and those who may sympathize with al-Qaeda and extremists, still control much of the countryside. Afghanistan could descend into civil war, or perhaps a failed state, which would have grave consequences for stability in South and Central Asia.

America will remain committed to help rebuild Afghanistan … and our success will depend to a great extent on the support of our allies. Germany is leading the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), and has led the support for NATO taking over ISAF this summer. France has had the responsibility of building the Afghan police force. And there are many other allies involved in our efforts in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is the first test in the war on terrorism, and we cannot fail.

In Iraq, the end of Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime presents us with a new reality in the Middle East, a reality with both promise and peril. And, like in 1991, what begins in Iraq does not end in Iraq. Like Afghanistan, post-war Iraq has not gone according to expectations. Also like Afghanistan, what happens next in Iraq is directly connected to the war on terrorism, with the potential for further instability and violence in the Middle East and elsewhere.

I support the emphasis that Ambassador L. Paul “Jerry” Bremer III, the new civilian administrator for Iraq, has placed on establishing security in Iraq. If we do not secure the peace in Iraq, the liberation of Iraq will be compromised, an historic opportunity squandered, and America’s will, purpose, and credibility will be severely damaged. Our military has done Iraq and the world a great service by ridding Iraq of the dictator, Saddam Hussein. However, this is only the beginning of a long journey in Iraq. We have few options other than to follow through with the critically important objectives and responsibilities we have undertaken.

The disorder in Baghdad and throughout Iraq today should not be considered as simply the unavoidable or untidy results of Iraq’s liberation. The prospects for a democratic transition in Iraq will be corrupted and lost if we do not now set the situation right. That is why the administration has restructured our efforts in Iraq. Security must come first.

Increasing our commitment to security has its complications and controversies. I understand why many Americans would want to cut back our military presence so that we can reduce the risk to our men and women and get out of Iraq as soon as possible. But securing the peace is as important as winning the war. Our involvement in Iraq is far from over.

America should quickly internationalize the security and transition process in Iraq. NATO could play a vital role in Iraq’s security. At some point, a

U. N. resolution might recognize a role for U.N. peacekeepers in Iraq, as well as other important U.N. functions and responsibilities. Our Arab allies should play a major role in helping establish security and rebuilding Iraq’s government and infrastructure. It is in their interest, as well as ours, that our regional alliances and relationships are strengthened and reinforced in dealing with restoring security and stability to Iraq. That America and Britain essentially alone should determine Iraq’s short-term future is very risky and probably unachievable. This is an immense task. It will require the participation of our allies and the involvement of international institutions.

Rebuilding Iraq is an opportunity for rebuilding our alliances and relationships, especially at the United Nations. The current deliberations at the U.N. Security Council on a new resolution on Iraq reflect our recognition that our interests are best served through cooperation and consensus with our United Nations allies. We need to look ahead. It is in our interest to stay focused on the future.

The political transition in Iraq should encourage the emergence of new leaders from inside the country who have a stake in their country’s future. That’s what liberation is all about. But this will take time.

We must facilitate an economic transition in Iraq that presents opportunities for economic growth. U.N. sanctions on Iraq should be lifted unconditionally, as the president has requested. Those sanctions were meant to keep revenues from Saddam Hussein, not punish the Iraqi people. We must also encourage the world community to address all outstanding debt and reparations claims against Iraq. If not addressed, these debt and reparations obligations will compromise Iraq’s future and undermine the prospects for democracy. Helping rebuild Iraq’s economy will require international consensus and cooperation from the Paris Club, the World Bank, the U.N., and other international organizations.

President Bush’s recently announced policies to promote trade-based growth and economic integration in the Middle East is an important part of the long-term solution to a region that for decades has been mired in economic stagnation. The prospects for economic development and growth will support political efforts to bring peace and stability to this region. Senator Lieberman and I are working on a bill to complement and support the president’s plan with efforts to strengthen private sector development and regional trade in the Muslim world.

But there will be no long-term economic prosperity without resolution of the endemic political problems that have bedeviled the modern history of the Middle East. And those problems are connected to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The acts of terrorism against Israeli citizens over the past week should reinforce the urgency of starting, without delay, a new approach to bringing an end to this conflict We cannot allow the terrorists to hijack the peace process. We must not allow the peace process to be held hostage by extremists and terrorism. We must continue to move forward. This is in the interests of Americans, Israelis, Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims and the world. Yesterday, the president publicly reaffirmed his commitment to the Road Map and to supporting a renewed peace process. Today, he spoke directly with Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas. President Bush’s personal commitment is critical to the process. Without the president’s involvement, the peace process will stall and ultimately fail.

We must start the clock on the Road Map now. So far it has been difficult to identify any party that has demonstrated a willingness to step forward to make the tough choices that peace will require. That must change for all parties involved in this process.

None of the parties should be wedded to the fine print of the Road Map. It should be treated as a working document. That’s why it is called a “Road Map.” The first steps need to be about security. The Palestinian Government must take identifiable steps to end the threat to Israelis from Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the al-Aqsa Brigade, and other terrorist groups. These steps by the new government of Prime Minister Abbas are essential, and not subject to negotiation or delay. And, at the same time, the Israeli government must take specific steps to ease the suffering and conditions of Palestinians living under Israeli curfew and occupation, and cease new settlement activity.

If we cannot accomplish these initial basic steps toward peace, then there will be no peace. We should also not further complicate and inhibit progress by putting the most sensitive items up front, like the “Right of Return” for Palestinians. Israel’s Jewish identity should not be negotiated and can never be compromised. But we should not be setting conditions before we even get to the starting line. Neither party need accept the Road Map line-by-line right now. We need to get on with implementation, not spend time building more roadblocks to peace.

The governments and peoples of the Middle East hope, more than expect, that America will commit to re-engaging in the Middle East peace process. Low expectations have been assigned to American efforts. Our credibility in the Middle East is attached to these low expectations. After ridding the region of Saddam Hussein’s regime, a commitment to real peace between Israelis and Palestinians would help define American purpose. If Iraq and Afghanistan slip away and the Middle East peace process fails, we will find ourselves back in a mindless cul-de-sac of violence and hopelessness, further jeopardizing world stability and American interests and security.

Like at the end of World War II, America must seize the initiative to strengthen alliances and rebuild international institutions to meet the challenges of this dangerous new era.

As Jim Hoagland recently wrote in The Washington Post:

“The victory in Iraq does not free the United States of its need for allies. In fighting international terrorism, the United States can no more ‘pull down the blinds and sit in the parlor with a loaded shotgun’ than it could in the Cold War, when Dean Acheson used that phrase to steel the nation against the temptation to leave Europe on its own.”

And, in looking ahead to this new era in world affairs, Hoagland sagely advised that:

“The Bush administration should do nothing to deepen the self-inflicted divisions now roiling the Old Continent. And Washington has only a limited role to play in resolving these new divisions, which are political in nature and do not endanger a global stability.”

We need Europe on our side in helping bring peace to the Middle East.

America must put forward a vision of a Middle East peace that builds confidence, trust and institutions, not only to prevent future conflict, but to offer hope where there has been only despair … and hope for a future worth living and dying for. In addition to the Road Map, we need a regional security plan for the Persian Gulf by working with the United Nations, the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Iran, and Iraq. While we have real differences and conflicts of interests with Iran, the administration is right to bring those issues to Iran directly through quiet diplomatic channels. That is the most responsible and effective approach to putting Iran on notice regarding our concerns about its nuclear programs, support for terrorism, and its meddling in Iraq.

Without real progress in the Middle East, we will stagger from crisis to crisis. The interludes without terrorism will be only the illusions of false hope.

Making peace has always been man’s greatest challenge. War and conflict breeds perpetual suffering and devastation. Making peace requires saying what’s done is done, that we must move forward, learn from a dark past, but put it behind us. President Anwar Sadat of Egypt, and his counterpart, Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel, knew the risks of peace, but they also knew the costs of war. They did not choose the easy path: That would have been to do nothing. Instead, with America as a partner, they chose peace. In his landmark address to the Israeli Knesset in November 1977, President Anwar Sadat said it well:

“… There are moments in the life of nations and peoples when it is incumbent on those known for their wisdom and clarity of vision to overlook the past, with all its complexities and weighing memories, in a bold drive towards new horizons. Those who, like us, are shouldering the same responsibility entrusted to us, are the first who should have the courage to take fate-determining decisions which are in consonance with the circumstances. We must all rise above the forms of fanaticism, self-deception and obsolete theories of superiority.”

He added that:

“… Peace is not a mere endorsement of written lines. Rather, it is a rewriting of history. Peace is not a game of calling for peace to defend certain whims or hide certain admissions. Peace in its essence is a dire struggle against all and every ambition and whim.”

And Yitzhak Rabin, in his powerful statement on the White House lawn on the occasion of signing of the Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles on September 13, 1993, said that day came with “great hope mixed with apprehension” for the Jewish people. Israel had suffered, and that suffering could not be forgotten. But Rabin added:

“We have come to try and put an end to the hostilities so that our children, our children’s children, will no longer experience the painful cost of war: violence and terror. We have come to secure their lives and to ease the soul and the painful memories of the past — to hope and pray for peace.”

Today, the testimony of Sadat and Rabin to the promise and peril of charting a new direction for their nations must not be lost. The path of expediency is the path of inaction, gamesmanship, and squandered possibilities. The challenge of peace places us in the company of world statesmen and peacemakers, who walked a lonely and difficult road, who looked beyond themselves, and their own pasts and limitations, to the hope of a better life for their children and their children’s children. These are the choices that are again before us. Are we worthy of the legacy of Sadat and Rabin? Will we today find such men as Sadat and Rabin? Destiny is now in our hands. The future depends on us. History will render its judgment on whether we were the worthy inheritors of their legacy, or whether we let pass an historic opportunity to find peace in the Middle East. Great opportunities like great men are rare in world history. Will history repeat itself? The future belongs to those courageous enough to shape it. In such a time we now live.

Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.

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