Put Hamas on Probation

Ever since President Bush, sometime after 9-11, converted to neoconservatism, his Middle East policy has suffered from the triple defects of that subspecies of the Right: hubris, ideology and immaturity.

Neoconservatives see the world as they wish it to be, not as it is. Like teenagers, they act on impulse and rail against the counsel of experience. "Often clever, never wise," Russell Kirk said of the breed.

Repeatedly, Bush was warned by traditional conservatives that to send a U.S. army to occupy Baghdad would engender Arab rage and Islamic terror. Heeding the "cakewalk" crowd, he refused to listen. Three years later, we are trying to extricate a U.S. army from Iraq with the least possible damage to U.S. security interests.

Prodded again by neoconservatives, Bush declared our true goal had always been to democratize Iraq and the entire Islamic world. His second Inaugural resonated less of Reagan than of Rousseau:

"So, it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world."

To advance the end of "tyranny in our world," Bush began to call for elections across the Middle East. Again, he and Condi were warned that if these people were allowed to vote their convictions, they might just vote to throw us out and throw the Israelis into the sea.

Now that elections have been held, what do the returns show?

Propelled into or toward power have been Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran, pro-Iranian Shiite zealots in Iraq, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and Hamas in Gaza and on the West Bank.

Now, Condi, who denounced Bush’s predecessors back to FDR for supporting dictators while preaching democracy in the Middle East, appears about to engage in a bit of hypocrisy of her own.

After insisting Hamas be included in the elections, Condi, stunned by the results and under pressure from Israel, has declared we will cut all aid to the Palestinian Authority if Hamas takes over the government, as Hamas was elected to do.

Bush agrees. Unless Hamas surrenders its weapons, abandons all armed resistance and recognizes Israel’s right to exist, we will not give 10 cents to a Palestinian Authority that has Hamas as its head. Rice is said to be pressuring Europe to do the same. Unless Hamas remakes itself into a Mideast version of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Dr. King, we terminate aid.

Before adopting this knee-jerk reaction to an election we insisted go ahead, one trusts the president, this once, will think it through.

What is likely to happen if we proceed on such a course?

If we and the Europeans cut off aid, and Israel refuses to remit to the Palestinians the taxes they collect, the Palestinians will be put through hell for voting the wrong way. The Arabs will call us hypocrites who believe in elections only if they produce the results we demand.

And who could say they are wrong?

What will Hamas do? They are not going to disarm in the face of an Israeli military that has been killing Palestinians — collateral damage, of course — at four times the rate that Palestinians have been killing Israelis. They are not going to give up their trump card and recognize Israel’s right to exist before they get a Palestinian state.

What will Hamas do? Hamas will accept the cut-off of aid, seek money from the Saudis and Iranians, do their best to keep the Palestinian people fed, clothed, housed and educated, and sacrifice for their people. And Hamas will fail. And when they fail, whom do we think will be blamed? When the Palestinian people have been broken because they voted the wrong way, whom do we think they will hate?

Let me propose another course. Put Hamas on probation.

For almost a year, Hamas has held to a truce with Israel and not engaged in attacks. Let America and Europe send word that if the truce holds, if Hamas does not attack Israeli civilians, if Hamas show its first concern is, as it claims, bettering the life of the Palestinian people, we will let the aid flow. But if Hamas reignites the war, we will not finance the war. We will terminate the aid.

Make Hamas responsible for continuing the aid. And make Hamas responsible for terminating it, if it comes to that.

Understandably, the Israelis are close to hysterical over the landslide for Hamas and are on a diplomatic campaign to have all donors end all aid to a Palestinian Authority dominated by Hamas.

But that is not in our interests. It is not even in Israel’s interest. For it has been Israel’s behavior, and uncritical U.S. support for that behavior, that produced this victory for Hamas. To continue on that road is to arrive at, literally, a dead end.

Bush has unleashed a revolution in the Middle East, and it is everywhere bringing to power Islamic fundamentalists. Either we deal with them, or fight them or get out of the Middle East.