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Commentary | ASSAD AND BARAK --EYES ON THE PRIZE

You Want Peace? Make War

Negotiations are never fruitful because no one wants to give up at the peace table what they haven't lost on the battlefield.

March 30, 2000|MICHAEL LEDEEN | Michael Ledeen, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, is author of "Machiavelli on Modern Leadership" (St. Martin's Press, 1999)

President Clinton is back from his latest effort at peacemaking, and the best that can be said is that he wasn't physically assaulted. Tensions in the ongoing unpleasantnesses between India and Pakistan in Asia, and between Israel and Syria in the Middle East, have not lessened, despite a rash of news stories promising major breakthroughs. Indeed, the usual group of unnamed sources are now muttering darkly about an increase in violence.

No one should be surprised that the United States is unable to produce peace on demand, for peace is almost never produced by negotiations, no matter how long or intense, and regardless of the "goodwill" of the participants. Historically, peace is invariably the result of its opposite: war. Far more often than not, "peace" among contending parties describes something imposed by the winners on the losers. We have peace with Russia because we won the Cold War, and the former Soviets are no longer able to challenge us or our allies, just as we have peace with Germany, Japan and Italy because we defeated them in World War II. Israel is at peace with Egypt because Anwar Sadat lost the Yom Kippur War and decided to come to terms with Israel. Jordan, Egypt's ally, followed suit a generation later. In all these cases, as in hundreds of earlier ones, war produced a winner and a loser, and peace was imposed by the one on the other.

Inconclusive wars produce uneasy peace or no peace at all, as in Kosovo and Iraq. Having failed to destroy the belligerent regimes in Belgrade and Baghdad, we're unable to get a satisfactory peace and the threat of further violence continues unabated. The reason for that is as simple as it is politically incorrect: One side or the other thinks it can win it all, and therefore won't give up at the peace table what it hasn't lost on the battlefield.

This brings us back to the redoubtable Hafez Assad, the murderous dictator of Syria, who doesn't want "peace," unless it's his peace, imposed on Israel after having defeated it. He's like the IRA in Northern Ireland, which refuses to give up its arms in the name of "peace" because that would mean giving up all hope of victory over the English-linked Protestants, which is what the IRA really wants.

It is hard for peace-loving Americans to swallow this bitter pill, because we have very limited experience with vicious countries trying to destroy us. We have Mexicans and Canadians on our borders, not Syrians or Russians, and, with the exception of Pearl Harbor, we've been protected from foreign aggressors by two big oceans. So we plaintively ask, "why can't they just get along?" forgetting that we live at peace within our borders because of what Grant did to Lee in one of history's bloodiest wars.

Finally, we seem not to want to recognize that there are times when serious leaders see that peace is more dangerous than war. That is the real explanation for Assad's refusal to make peace with Israel. He comes from a minority religious group, and justifies his harsh dictatorship, occupation of Lebanon and support for terrorists by conjuring up a never-ending threat from Israel. Were he to normalize relations with Israel, all those handy excuses would vanish and he might be held accountable by his own people for decades of ruinous rule. A man such as this is not concerned about the tranquility of Syria's downtrodden masses; he massacred 30,000 of them a few years back when they became excessively unruly. He's narrowly focused on the survival of his regime and the fortunes of his family. U.S. Envoy Dennis Ross can shuttle forever without bringing Assad to terms.

So what should we do if we want real peace? The answer was delivered by the great Roman commentator Flavius Vegetius Renatus: "Let him who desires peace, prepare for war." If Saddam Hussein had been removed from power at the end of the Gulf War, the Middle East would be more peaceful, and if Assad were removed today or tomorrow, there would be a chance for a real peace with Syria, just as there might be peace in the Balkans if Slobodan Milosevic had been removed. Dreadful though they are, those are the real peace processes.

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