PALESTINIANS HAVE LOST SYMPATHY AROUND WORLD WITH
TERROR TACTICS; WITHOUT NON-U.N.-LED ENFORCEMENT OF STABILITY, POST-TALIBAN
ACCORD WILL FAIL IN FACE OF GREEDY WARLORDS; SADDAM IS MOST DANGEROUS
CHIEF OF STATE IN WORLD TODAY
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
HOLBROOKE: In the past, negotiations with Arafat have had a quality
about them which raises serious doubts as to whether you can work with
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
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
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
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
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.
GARDELS: 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
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
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
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
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
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
For immediate release (Distributed 12/4/01)