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Policy of Least Resistance

Diplomacy weakened by scandal? Impossible!

By Charles Krauthammer


No matter how long it takes or where it takes us, we will pursue terrorists until the cases are solved and justice is done." So declared President Clinton the day after the car bombing of U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.

Brave words, and familiar. Clinton, the day after the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing that killed 19 American airmen in Saudi Arabia: "We will not rest in our efforts to find who is responsible for this outrage, to pursue them and to punish them."

But we did rest. The investigation of the Khobar Towers bombing has completely collapsed. We suspect there was Iranian involvement. But the Saudis are not cooperating with our investigation. And Clinton is not prepared to risk either offending an ally (Saudi Arabia) or confronting an enemy (Iran). Jenny Haun, the widow of an Air Force navigator killed in the Khobar bombing, summarized thus the Administration's handling of the case: "They're weak."

Terrorists know how to read weakness. So does Saddam Hussein. Six months ago, when Saddam blatantly violated the arms-inspection regimen he had agreed to after the Gulf War, Clinton let Kofi Annan broker a paper deal and called off the U.S. military buildup.

But oh, the talk was tough. "If Saddam refuses to accept full access for U.N. inspectors," declared Madeleine Albright, "we are prepared to use military force... If diplomacy fails, we will deliver a serious blow."

Well, Saddam has called her bluff. Less than six months after giving Annan his word--in a "written commitment," stressed a comically satisfied Clinton at the time--Saddam took it back. He has summarily ended all inspections. The agreement is dead.

Albright's response? A huff and a puff and not a mention of the promised "serious blow." Not a hint, not a memory. And now we learn that after talking tough, Albright had been secretly urging the U.N. arms inspectors to hold off on searches lest they provoke Saddam. Seeing the U.S. throw in the towel, Saddam has grown even bolder, announcing now the effective end of even long-term monitoring. With America prone, he can resume building his doomsday weapons unmolested.

There is a theory abroad that Lewinsky has weakened Clinton's diplomacy. Impossible. In a foreign policy so inert, any weakening would be imperceptible.

Upon entering office, the Clinton team boldly touted its policy of "dual containment" of Iraq and Iran. Five years later, that policy is in dual shambles. The containment of Iraq has collapsed: the coalition dead, the inspections stopped, the embargo porous and teetering. And Iran? Even as it tests an 800-mile-range missile, even as it rushes to build nuclear weapons, the new party line enunciated by Albright is detente, bringing down "the wall of mistrust" between the two countries.

Just four months ago, Albright's State Department in its "Patterns of Global Terrorism" report called Iran the "most active state sponsor of terrorism in the world." Mistrusting terrorists, it seems, is yesterday's foreign policy.

Diplomacy, it has been said, is the art of saying "nice doggie" while looking for a stick. This Administration has given up even pretending to look for a stick.

True, a foreign policy of least resistance has its attractions. It avoids trouble--for now. It is always the credo of appeasers that they saved real lives, which their critics would blithely sacrifice--to what purpose? Saving face? Power? Principle? Abstractions. If you prick them, do they bleed?

In the end, however, these scorned abstractions--credibility above all--matter. They are intangible, yes, but indispensable. Weakness breeds contempt. When you have no credibility, your enemies will seek you out anywhere in the world and blow you up. And what have you lost? Real blood, real lives.

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Cover Date: August 24, 1998

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