The Carter effect and the bomb

Bret Stephens:

An idealistic president takes office promising an era of American moral renewal at home and abroad. The effort includes a focus on diplomacy and peace-making, an aversion to the use of force, the selling out of old allies. The result is that within a couple of years the U.S. is more suspected, detested and enfeebled than ever.

No, we're not talking about Barack Obama. But since the current administration took office offering roughly the same prescriptions as Jimmy Carter did, it's worth recalling how that worked out.

How it worked out became inescapably apparent 30 years ago this month. On Nov. 20, 1979, Sunni religious fanatics led by a dark-eyed charismatic Saudi named Juhayman bin Seif al Uteybi seized Mecca's Grand Mosque, Islam's holiest site. After a two week siege distinguished mainly by its incompetence, Saudi forces were able to recapture the mosque at a cost of several hundred lives.

By any objective account—the very best of which was offered by Wall Street Journal reporter Yaroslav Trofimov in his 2007 book "The Siege of Mecca"—the battle at the Grand Mosque was a purely Sunni affair pitting a fundamentalist Islamic regime against ultra-fundamentalist renegades. Yet throughout the Muslim world, the Carter administration was viewed as the main culprit. U.S. diplomatic missions in Bangladesh, India, Turkey and Libya were assaulted; in Pakistan, the embassy was burned to the ground. How could that happen to a country whose president was so intent on making his policies as inoffensive as possible?

The answer was, precisely, that Mr. Carter had set out to make America as inoffensive as possible. Two weeks before Juhayman seized the Grand Mosque, Iranian radicals seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, taking 66 Americans hostage. They did so after Mr. Carter had refused to bail out the Shah, as the Eisenhower administration had in 1953, and after Andrew Young, Mr. Carter's U.N. ambassador, had described the Ayatollah Khomeini as "somewhat of a saint."

They also did so after Mr. Carter had scored his one diplomatic coup by brokering a peace deal between Egypt and Israel. Today, the consensus view of the Obama administration is that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would ease tensions throughout the region. But worthy though it was in its own right, peace between Egypt and Israel was also a fillip for Sunni and Shiite radicals alike from Tehran to Damascus to Beirut to Gaza. Whatever else the Middle East has been since the signing of the Camp David Accords, it has not been a more peaceful place.

Nor has it been any less inclined to hate the U.S., no matter whether the president is a peace-loving Democrat or a war-mongering Republican....

Israel has only been attacked by terrorist since it developed its nuclear arsenal. Egypt and Jordon have signed peace agreements and Syria has resisted any overt attacks. In fact Israel's nukes have had much more to do with its not being attacked by its neighbors than any diplomatic agreements.

The main reason there has been no agreement with the Palestinians is that they have nothing of value to offer the Israelis. They want a state, but they are not willing to engage in a civil war with their terrorist subdivisions to get it. Since they cannot deliver on the peace part of the equation there is no reason for the Israelis to cede land to them.


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