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Despite the "two triumphs," the images of the Gulf were too sordid to be left in the public memory: hundreds of thousands killed and the toll mounting as a long-term consequence of the terrorist attack on the civilian society; the Gulf tyrannies safeguarded from any democratic pressures; Saddam Hussein firmly in power, having demolished popular rebellions with tacit US support. We therefore turn to a new triumph: James Baker's brilliant pursuit of the "peace process," as he exploited the "historic window of opportunity" to advance the US goals of "territorial compromise," "land for peace," and "autonomy" for the Palestinians.
As Baker's conference opened in Madrid, its utility in obscuring Gulf realities was indicated obliquely by Times diplomatic correspondent R.W. Apple: "Critics have suggested that the United States achieved far too little in the war, because Saddam Hussein was not overthrown, Iran remained as hostile and Kuwait as undemocratic as ever, and Saudi Arabia shed neither its isolation nor its archaic ways." But the "remarkable tableau" in Madrid revealed "that a very great deal had changed," as "George Bush and the United States today plucked the fruits of victory in the Persian Gulf war," though we do not yet know "how sweet they will be."
To rephrase in more accurate terms, by limiting the options in the Gulf to violence, Washington was able to achieve its basic goals. But the public must not perceive that the outcome revealed the priorities of those who ran the show. The consequences of Washington's decisions must therefore be construed as a failure to achieve our noble goals, now to be compensated with "sweet" diplomatic triumphs.
In another paean to our leader's "vision of the future," Apple explained why Bush could now "dream such great dreams" about Middle East peace: there is no fear that "regional tensions" might lead to superpower confrontation, and "no longer must the United States contend with countries whose cantankerousness was reinforced by Moscow's interest in continuing unrest."18 Translating again: with the Soviet deterrent gone, the US feels powerful enough to ram through its own traditional policies in defiance of its NATO allies, the nonaligned countries, the major Arab states, in fact, virtually the entire world -- unacceptable truths to which we return.
Such commentary was typical across a broad spectrum, including much of Europe, which has largely come to accept the extension of the Monroe Doctrine to the Middle East. The acclaim even extended to sectors of Palestinian opinion. Thus Middle East scholar Walid Khalidi, an adviser to the Jordanian-Palestinian delegation hailed "the personal commitment of the president of the U.S....to a just and comprehensive settlement."19
A different picture was presented by a highly respected Israeli journalist, Danny Rubinstein, one of the most informed and acute observers of the occupied territories. The "autonomy" that the US and Israel are proposing, he wrote, is "autonomy as in a POW camp, where the prisoners are `autonomous' to cook their meals without interference and to organize cultural events." Palestinians are to be granted about what they already have: control over local services. He noted further that even advocates of Greater Israel have not called for literal annexation of the territories. The governing Likud party calls for extension of Israeli sovereignty, not annexation, which would require Israel to provide the "restricted services" available to Israel's second-class Arab citizens. Far preferable is the current system, to be continued under "autonomy": heavy taxation with little offered in return.20 Rubinstein's interpretation appears quite realistic.
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18 Apple, NYT, Oct. 30, Sept. 22, 1991.
19 J. of Palestine Studies, Autumn 1991.
20 Rubinstein, Ha'aretz, Oct. 23, 24, 1991.