April 30, 2002

MICHAEL BARONE says it’s rope-a-dope, and it’s working:

But these predictions ring hollow. The complaints show the weakness, not the strength, of the Saudis and of the Near East Bureau of the State Department, which so often takes up their cause. The accounts of the Bush-Abdullah meeting are very strong evidence that the president ignored the leakers’ counsel and kept to his course of opposing Palestinian terrorism and supporting Israeli resistance to it. . . .

Also, Abdullah did not leave Texas in a huff, and it doesn’t seem likely he’ll call an Islamic summit. Militarily the Saudis have little leverage. Their own armed forces are derisory, and the United States has shown in its campaign against Afghanistan that it can proceed without using its bases in Saudi Arabia. The U.S. can do the same against Iraq. We have forces in Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, and Turkey, and evidently have been transferring troops and facilities out of Saudi Arabia and into other countries. The bitterness of the Saudis’ complaints in the Times shows not that they are strong and we are at their mercy but that they are weak and we are positioned to do what we wish.

You hear from the State Department and various Arab sources that Israel’s attempts to stamp out the terrorist network in the West Bank will just produce more terrorism. But the real fear, among the Arabs at least, is that Israel’s tough response will prove as effective in the medium and long term as it has in the short term. The Arabs are afraid that the Palestinians are losing their terror war and that Israel will be able to go along living in peace, without pressure to make concessions to Palestinians.

One disturbing — though not surprising — quote in Barone’s column comes from a State Department Arabist who says “we’re getting hammered” by the Arabs over our policies. What he means by this is that Arab diplomats are acting unhappy. This suggests that the State Department thinks its role is to get people to say nice things to State Department officials.

The State Department’s role, of course, is to get other countries to do what we want, without the need for going to war. At least, not usually: the Marines, after all, used to be called “State Department Troops.” Would that we had a State Department that understood its role similarly today.