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Richard Holbrooke was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and the chief negotiator of the Dayton Peace Accords for Bosnia. He spoke in New York with Global Viewpoint editor Nathan Gardels on Dec. 4.

NATHAN GARDELS: As America's consummate diplomat, can you see still a way to negotiate an agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians?

RICHARD HOLBROOKE: A negotiation between the Arabs and Israelis of the sort we are so familiar with historically, like Camp David I and II, is unlikely to be productive during a period in which terror is being employed by one side as a constant weapon and the other side is forced to retaliate. In the current climate it is very hard to imagine a successful process. Neither side can negotiate under the circumstances.

The question now is whether Yasser Arafat is either able or willing to stop the violence in order for negotiations to take place. If he is unwilling, you can't have a serious negotiation. If he is unable, then a negotiation with him would have no meaning. That is the dilemma from a negotiating point of view.

GARDELS: It is not a dilemma. In either case he is not a valuable partner.

HOLBROOKE: In the past, negotiations with Arafat have had a quality about them which raises serious doubts as to whether you can work with him.

GARDELS: Is Ariel Sharon's war against the leadership of "Arafatistan'' -- as Benjamin Netanyahu calls the Palestinian Authority -- different from Bush's war against the Afghan Taliban? Both are considered "terror-supporting entities.''

HOLBROOKE: I am not familiar with Netanyahu's comment. But let me say this: Both groups were sponsored and sheltered by a state -- the Taliban by Afghanistan and Hamas and Hezbollah by Iran. The difference is, in Afghanistan the American assault is about to take care of that problem. But as for Hamas and Hezbollah, there is no ongoing military action against the sponsor, only against its agents in Israel and the West Bank. Therefore, they are a much more elusive target.

GARDELS: By striking against Hamas agents within Palestinian Authority territory, that is what Israel says it is doing -- striking the state sponsor.

HOLBROOKE: I understand that. But you are talking about the local leaders. I'm talking about the state sponsor.

GARDELS: Even moderate Arabs say the Al Qaeda-type terrorism striking at the United States is different from Hamas or Islamic Jihad. Their action is justified because it is a legitimate revolt against occupation by the Israelis.

HOLBROOKE: This ritual incantation of such a difference is the rationale for people getting on buses with bombs strapped to their bodies and blowing themselves and innocents to smithereens. That is a terror weapon in the extreme; a bus with kids and old ladies is not a legitimate military target. The Palestinian grievances have to be dealt with in a different way.

Worst of all for the Palestinians, this strategy has backfired. They are now much further from their goal today than they were 15 months ago. The Palestinians have lost sympathy around the world by these obscene tactics. In the United Nations, countries are voting for them now only with growing reluctance. They are not winning any friends with their tactics, and they will not succeed. If they want a state, they are going to have to sit down and talk to their adversaries.


Should America get bogged down in "nation-building'' once the Taliban is driven from Afghanistan?

HOLBROOKE: When I was young diplomat, nation-building was considered a noble effort the United States led around the world, with successes in countries like Korea or the Philippines. Then the word took on a negative meaning of naive failure. We should now retire the word and move on to a different lexicon.

We are in the process of winning a decisive and clear-cut military victory in Afghanistan. If, following that, we repeat the mistake of 1989 and abandon Afghanistan, the military victory will lose much of its value. If Afghanistan returns to lawless warlordism, then it will be a vacuum waiting to be filled again by the worst elements -- perhaps even a new generation of terrorists.

The only way to avoid this is to make sure that the political part of the effort achieves a minimum goal of stability to allow the slow rebuilding of Afghanistan.

The United Nations has had three successes and three failures with this kind of endeavor: Cambodia, East Timor and Kosovo have succeeded; Rwanda, Somalia and Bosnia have failed. Bosnia only became a success when the United Nations was replaced by NATO and the Dayton Accord, which the United Nations had nothing to do with.

Learning from these failures and successes, today it is imperative that the international community send a multinational force sanctioned by the United Nations (ital) but not under U.N. command (unital) -- as in East Timor or Kosovo -- to establish security in the region. The British, the Germans, the French and the Turks are standing by ready to do this. They should not be delayed any further by the Northern Alliance.

When (Burhanuddin) Rabbani, the leader of the Northern Alliance, starts acting as though he liberated Kabul, when in fact it was American air power that did so, and when he starts throwing sand in the diplomatic efforts, I am very troubled. It shouldn't be allowed to happen.

Once the multinational force is in place, we need a civilian administrative structure that the United Nations helps to run. I am unhappy with what I see coming out of the Bonn meeting on Afghanistan. The governing arrangement proposed is a weak patchwork that will be unable to sustain itself unless the United Nations, backed by a multinational force, makes it work.

Absent an enforcement authority, it will surely collapse under the conflicting claims and rivalries of the local warlords and factions in Afghanistan. This is not so much ethnic warfare, as in the Balkans, as it is greedy warlordism.

GARDELS: Though a supporter of the United Nations, you have said that U.N. resolutions are no longer the mechanism to make the world safe from Saddam Hussein's mass-destruction weapons. Does that mean you now favor a military attack?

HOLBROOKE: The Bush administration is correct to fight only one war at a time. Let's finish the Taliban and Al Qaeda first and not weaken the coalition.

Beyond that, I believe Saddam Hussein is the most dangerous chief of state in the world today because of his desire to build mass-destruction weapons. Left standing in 1991, he has only used the intervening years to reestablish his threatening power.
Therefore, active efforts to weaken or remove him are appropriate. I don't think we can expect a Desert Storm or Afghanistan-type campaign. It will be a different kind of effort, longer, tougher and more sustained.

Saddam should be given one last chance through a strong U.N. resolution to let inspectors in. If he rejects that, as I suspect he will, then he should be prepared for the consequences, because the American leadership, with the people behind it, is more than ready to act. All patience has run out.

But all this is next year's debate. It won't happen now.

GARDELS: Another ritual incantation from the Islamic world is that the West applies a "double standard'' vis a vis Israelis and the Palestinians and has never done anything to help Muslims. How do you respond to that?

HOLBROOKE: Well, Bosnia and Kosovo are Exhibit 1 and Exhibit 2 that this is completely wrong. The humanitarian efforts in Somalia, though it failed, and Sudan also suggest the opposite. So that is an unbelievably unfair characterization that, unfortunately, is part of the ritualized rhetoric from some parts of the world.

The United States intervened in the Balkans to frustrate the willful attempt of the Bosnian Serbs to destroy the community of free people in Sarajevo, the majority of whom were Muslims; and then, in Kosovo, because the Serbs were trying to destroy the Albanians, most of whom were also Muslims.

We did not take sides in a religious war. We took the side of civilization.

(c) 2001, Los Angeles Times Syndicate International, a division of Tribune Media Services
For immediate release (Distributed 12/4/01)