Monday, August 23, 2004

Is Porter Goss For Peace?

M.J. Rosenberg, writing for the Israeli Policy Forum, in a brief yet informative piece, discusses the impact on the long term goals of Israel and the United States, especially in relation to its efforts to curtail the spread of radical anti-American jihadism, in the context of the internal struggle that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Gaza withdrawal plan is facing within his own Likud Party.

The Likud Party convention has dealt a serious blow to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and to his proposed withdrawal from Gaza. The blow will also be felt by the United States which needs movement on the Israeli-Palestinian front to assist us in the struggle against terrorism. Keeping Israeli forces in Gaza would be high on Al Qaeda's wish list and, unless the resourceful prime minister finds a way around the Likud activists who thwarted him, anti-American and anti-Israel forces worldwide have been presented with a gift that will keep on giving.
Rosenberg provides insight into the somewhat unique situation by which Sharon's bold policy initiative is being derailed by a small, yet vocal, minority from within Likud, while the majority of Israelis, and possibly even the majority of Likud, supports the Gaza pullout.

It is as if a minority of Republican Party activists in Richard Nixon's day voted to oppose the President's opening to China and its members in Congress had to follow their lead and block its implementation. Inconceivable here, and it should be there. It isn't.
Sharon appears intent to fight on, though, seeking the support of his historical political opposition, the Labor Party, and possibly calling for a more inclusive Likud Party re-vote on the Gaza issue. It is crucial for the United States to back Sharon in this showdown with whatever assistance can be provided. At this point in time, with the debacle in Iraq dragging the image of the United States to unprecedented depths in a region of the world, and among a religious group, in which we are most in need of rehabilitating the perceptions of our motives and interests, a breakthrough is imperative. We have strenthened the hand of the fundamentalists and the radicals to such a degree that a tipping point is on the horizon. Now we need to offer something to the moderates to use to change the momentum in their pitched effort to seize the hearts and minds of the Muslim world. The Israeli evacuation of Gaza would be just that. Without it, al-Qaeda's prominence will continue to rise, and this trend imperils us all.

Unfortunately, there are signs that the United States is looking to be less involved, not more. According to a JTA story this week by Ron Kampeas, Congressman Porter Goss (R-FL), President Bush's nominee for CIA director, is not likely be as engaged in the Middle East as outgoing director, George Tenet.
This will not likely be a subject probed in any depth during Goss's confirmation hearings, but it may be more important than any other single issue brought to the floor. To appreciate how vital CIA involvement is to the overall prospects of some type of resolution, or even to the success of the small steps along that arduous road, Rosenberg delves into the scarcely reported history of the CIA's role in prior peace efforts.

The story actually begins in 1996, a time when implementation of the Oslo agreement was advancing rapidly. Prime Minister Shimon Peres was riding a wave of popularity following the murder of his partner Yitzhak Rabin, the military hero turned prime minister who propounded the idea that getting out of the territories was necessary for Israel's security. Israel was turning over territory to the Palestinian Authority and the Authority was struggling to thwart terrorism.

Peace seemed inevitable. And, not surprisingly, it was at this point that Hamas launched a wave of bombings that killed dozens of innocent Israelis, stopped Oslo in its tracks, enabled Binyamin Netanyahu to defeat Shimon Peres, and caused Palestinians and Israelis to question whether the dream of peace had died with its architect, Rabin. By 1997, the peace process seemed to be a dead letter.

That is when the United States brought the CIA into the process. Its mission was to bring Israelis and Palestinians together in the struggle against terrorism. Prime Minister Netanyahu claimed that the Palestinians were not fulfilling their obligations to fight terror while the Palestinians claimed they were. The CIA was called in as arbiter and to foster security cooperation between the two sides, monitor implementation, and help develop a security plan. It immediately set up a trilateral framework, under which Israeli and Palestinian security officials began regular meetings, in the presence of the CIA, to work together to thwart the suicide bombers.

Initially, the Americans played the largest role in these meetings but, within a relatively short time, Israelis and Palestinians had established enough mutual trust that the American role was transformed from active mediator to mere observer.

The result was a Palestinian action plan to fight terror with implementation monitored by the United States. It worked. From the scores of terror victims in 1996 prior to direct CIA involvement, the number of victims inside Israel dropped dramatically following the CIA intervention. By the time of the Camp David summit in 2000 - after which security cooperation collapsed - the war on Palestinian terrorism essentially had been won. Everything changed after the peace process collapsed in 2000 although every plan to resuscitate it since - most recently the Road Map - has envisioned the CIA returning to its previous role.
While Porter Goss is sworn in, under the cover of political expediency as Democrats appear unwilling to mount a challenge that could be spun against them in an election year, will the role that Goss intends the CIA to play in the peace process be ignored? It would be at our own peril that such an oversight would ensue. The Bush administration has been defiantly disengaged from the peace process, eschewing all things Clintonian, and the result has been an escalation of tensions, rhetoric and violence. The implications that this conflict has on the greater efforts to stem the tide of radical Islamist terrorism can not be overstated. It is from this festering strife that much of Osama's appeal derives. It is time for Bush, or Kerry if he succeeds him, to take an active role in bringing both sides together, and there is no doubt that the future director of the CIA must share this resolve. Does Porter Goss appreciate this?

[Update: This article, via Atrios, further calls into question the credentials of Porter Goss, noting that he: "...sponsored legislation that would have cut intelligence personnel by 20 percent in the late 1990s."

It is beginning to look like the selection of Goss was made for political reasons (a familiar refrain), in an effort to shore up flagging support for Bush in Florida, Goss's home state. There is a certain counter-intuitiveness to appointing a person to salvage the wayward CIA when that person had the greatest responsibility in the House of Representatives for CIA oversight during the period in which the enormous intelligence failures of the Agency have led some to demand its dismantling. His position on Israel is as disturbing as his record in Congress. The article discusses the proposed cuts further:

"Goss, who has been chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence for the past eight years, was one of six original co-sponsors of legislation in 1995 that called for cuts of at least 4 percent per year between 1996 and 2000 in the total number of people employed throughout the intelligence community.

The Bush reelection campaign has been blasting Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry as deeply irresponsible for proposing intelligence cuts at the same time. A Bush campaign ad released on Aug. 13 carried a headline: 'John Kerry . . . proposed slashing Intelligence Budget 6 Billion Dollars.'

But the cuts Goss supported are larger than those proposed by Kerry and specifically targeted the 'human intelligence' that has recently been found lacking. The recent report by the commission probing the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks called for more spending on human intelligence."]

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