Stop Tiptoeing Around Russia
It Is Time to End Washington’s Decades of Deference to Moscow
In mid-November of last year, I concluded an article for Foreign Affairs on the October War and the future of the Arab-Israeli conflict by saying that a resolution of the conflict had at last become a real possibility for the parties directly concerned, and an imperative necessity for all the outsiders that have been involved in it. I added that a successful wedding of the outside powers' need to the possibilities latent in the situation required sensitivity to the fundamental concerns of the parties, imaginative diplomacy, and statesmanlike timing. In the nine months that have elapsed since I wrote those words, the United States, Europe and Japan, and up to this point the Soviet Union, have given ample evidence of their eagerness for peace. The United States in particular has taken the lead in trying to promote an Arab-Israeli settlement, and Secretary of State Kissinger has twice treated the world to breathtaking experiments in diplomacy, shuttling between half a dozen capitals to sustain two "campaigns" of negotiations of hitherto unprecedented intensity.
The campaigns have produced two disengagement accords-between Israel and Egypt, then between Israel and Syria. On the surface, these agreements seem to be utterly disproportionate to the immense effort invested in reaching them. They seem to deal essentially with temporary measures to establish an effective ceasefire and not with the tough central issues of peace, such as permanent boundaries, security provisions, the fate of the Palestinians, the future of Jerusalem. However, a closer look would show the disengagement agreements and the manner in which they were brought about to be of vital importance not only for the immediate prospects for peace between the Arabs and Israelis, but also for the entire future order of the Middle East in the context of the international political balance, and for the U.S. role in that order.
But there is a price to be paid for these achievements and prospects which the American people may not be aware of. The disengagement process in the Middle East has been accompanied by a process of engagement of American responsibility, which bids fair to increase with every important step forward toward a comprehensive settlement. At the end of the road, the United States may well find out that it has extended to the Middle East the kind of commitment it assumed toward Europe after 1947. The American Congress and people have accepted the European commitment and appreciated its contribution to the welfare of the United States and the peace of the world. If they are to accept a similar commitment in the Middle East and not confuse it with other recent tragic involvements of the United States, they must be apprised of the true interests and prospects at stake there, and must be frankly informed of the real obligations they are called upon to assume in order to advance them.
While shuttling between Jerusalem and Damascus, the Secretary of State was criticized even by some of his admirers at home for neglecting the worldwide responsibilities of his department in order to mediate the endless haggling between Syrians and Israelis over a hill or two, the number and designation of U.N. troops, or the caliber and location of a few artillery batteries on either side of the demarcation lines. It would be wrong to view what the Secretary of State was doing and what he eventually accomplished in that narrow perspective. For, although most of Mr. Kissinger's time and effort indeed went into the elaboration of the details of disengagement, the military provisions of the Syrian-Israeli and Egyptian-Israeli agreements are in themselves the least important aspects of the whole exercise. Not only are the provisions meant to be temporary but their strictly military relevance is highly ephemeral.
Consider the terms of the Egyptian-Israeli agreement. Their principal intent is clearly to place the new Israeli defense line at the Sinai passes beyond the reach of an Egyptian antiaircraft missile umbrella, while permitting these missiles from their positions on the west bank of the Suez Canal to protect Egypt's new line east of it against massive assault by the Israeli air force. The 30 kilometers or so between the two lines held by U.N. forces, or limited forces of the parties, are mainly meant to make that arrangement possible. The U.N. troops, assuming no hitch in the periodic renewal of their mandate, provide at best a factor that complicates the decision of a potential attacker by forcing him to choose between ordering them to step aside and thus giving warning to the opponent, or driving through them and incurring a heavy onus in the eyes of world opinion. The same ideas underlie, mutatis mutandis, the Syrian-Israeli agreement, with the addition that there the vulnerability of Israeli settlements to Syrian fire is counterbalanced by the vulnerability of Quneitra and the neighboring Syrian villages, when repopulated, to Israeli fire.
No special insight is required to recognize that all these arrangements have been made with an eye mainly to the previous war, nor does it take military genius to realize that some relatively minor technological or tactical innovations, homegrown or imported, can nullify their effects. It is enough for the Egyptians, for example, to devise new ways of rapidly redeploying their missile arsenal on the east bank of the canal, or to acquire missiles with a longer range, in order to give their ground forces the air cover they need to reach the passes. The Israelis, for their part, need only improve their missile-evading tactics and techniques, or acquire improved air-to-surface missiles that can be fired from beyond the range of the antiaircraft defenses, in order to be in a position to bring to bear the full power of their air force against the Egyptian lines. Moreover, the Israelis could go all-out after the Egyptian missiles on the ground, as they did in the later stages of the October War, and the Egyptians could expand and improve their air force to a point that would make them less dependent on surface-to-air missiles.
For all these limitations, the fundamental point is, of course, that without an Egyptian-Israeli agreement renewed war was virtually certain, because of the untenable lines produced by the ceasefire for both the Egyptians and the Israelis. And without a Syrian-Israeli agreement, an escalation of the fighting on the Syrian front could at any time undo the Egyptian-Israeli accord and even lead to general war. With the events of the October War still so recent, there is no need of a special effort to remember that war could mean confrontation between the superpowers, a death blow to détente, a revived and intensified energy crisis, panic in Europe, greater strain between the United States and its NATO allies, and so on.
The disengagement agreements offer the best hope of forestalling these developments, for in addition to averting the explosion of a highly charged situation, they also set the stage in several subtle but crucial ways for a movement toward peace. In the first place, the agreements were the first accords concluded between Israel and Arab states since the 1949 armistice agreements, which had lost all relevance by the early 1960s. Furthermore, the agreement with Egypt and to a certain extent the one with Syria were formally structured as part of the Geneva Peace Conference, which marked the first face-to-face meeting ever between representatives of Israel and Arab states around a peace table. Perhaps more important than these formal features, however, is the effect of the experience of reaching the accords on previous attitudes of Arabs and Israelis toward the very ideas of settlement and mediation.
Prior to the beginning of Kissinger's endeavors, both sides were prone to look upon their relationship in terms of a zero-sum game. Starting from a wide disparity in declared positions, each side tended to view movement from its own declared position toward that of its opponent as a loss for itself and gain for him, and vice versa. Consequently each side conceived of such movement as being possible only as a result of unbearable pressure. Mediation was accordingly seen essentially as the imposition of a third party's view, and was favored or rejected by one party or the other depending on its expectation regarding the mediator's decision.
The experience of the disengagement negotiations and accords cracked these mental molds that had made for rigidity, fatalism and despair. It demonstrated to each that the initial position of the opponent was not necessarily impervious to change except by force; that a middle ground between the disparate positions, one which both sides could willingly accept and deem to be advantageous, could be found; and that external mediation, intelligently pursued, need not take the form of imposition. The sight of beaming Israeli and Arab leaders celebrating the successful conclusion of negotiations that gave to each considerably less than what they had insisted was an irreducible minimum is not only pleasant to contemplate, but also bodes well for the prospects of negotiations over the very difficult issues involved in a comprehensive peace settlement. One need no longer become discouraged by the differences in the starting positions.
Another very important result of the agreements is that they began to give rise on either side to vested interests, intellectual or political, in depicting the other side's intentions and behavior in a favorable light. Throughout the years of the conflict, each side had tended to put the worst possible interpretation on everything the other side did, said, or allegedly thought. And the worst views of each side were converted into self-fulfilling prophecies.
The agreements have begun to reverse the process, strangely enough because they were not universally welcomed either in Israel or on the Arab side. No negotiated accord is proof against determined bad faith, and no negotiated accord can therefore be concluded without each of the contracting parties granting a modicum of good faith to the other. The Arab-Israeli agreements are no exception, even though the United States acted as a kind of warrantor of each party before the other. The opponents of the agreements within each of the camps castigated the respective leaders who signed them for granting to the enemy in the first place, and the United States in the second place, precisely that requisite measure of good faith; and the leaders found themselves compelled to respond by justifying the enemy's, and America's, trustworthiness.
Thus was the world treated to the novel spectacle of Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan urging in the Knesset that there was no need to assume the worst about Sadat; arguing that he seemed to be genuinely desirous of peace and eager to turn his attention to the tasks of reconstructing and developing his country; and stressing that he had scrupulously observed the terms of the agreement in letter and spirit. On the other side, one could hear Sadat reassure his people that they need not worry about the possibility of Israel's sitting tight and trying to freeze the situation created by the disengagement agreement; and one could see him hopping from one Arab capital to another in an effort to allay this and other doubts and justify the "gamble" he took on the grounds that the United States and Israel had changed. Like the former negative attitude, the new positive outlook of both sides can be mutually reinforcing, as was illustrated when the Egyptian forces deployed unauthorized artillery units on the east side of the canal at a time when the fighting on the Syrian front seemed to be escalating. The Egyptian government quietly pulled them back, while denying the incident ever happened in order to preserve its trustworthy image; and the Israeli government reciprocated by underplaying the significance of the event at the time it occurred and completely ignoring it thereafter.
Besides defusing an explosive situation, starting off a process of negotiation for the first time in 25 years, setting up hopeful precedents for compromise, and beginning to generate mutual trust between the antagonists, the disengagement agreements involved a substantial modification of past patterns of inter-Arab politics. This has a crucial bearing on the prospects for an Arab-Israeli settlement.
One of the factors that had made the Arab-Israeli conflict so intractable over the past quarter-century was the intricacies of inter-Arab politics, particularly relating to pan-Arabism. As an ideal, focusing on the affinity among the Arab peoples and seeking to give that affinity a meaningful practical expression, pan-Arabism has commanded general Arab support. However, the nature of that expression, the manner in which it should be pursued, and the appropriate leadership for it have been the subject of sharp, sometimes violent strife; this conflict has spilled over onto other issues of central concern to the Arab peoples, most notably their countries' internal sociopolitical systems, relations with the big powers, and the conflict with Israel. With respect to the last question, the effect of inter-Arab rivalry and strife was to establish a pattern of mutual outbidding in extremism, which deterred any Arab state or regime whose interests might have been served by a settlement and toleration of Israel, or even a temporary quiescence, from pursuing such courses.
Examples of this pattern are writ over the entire history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Three might suffice to illustrate it. Very early in the story, King Abdullah of Jordan sought to conclude a separate peace with Israel in order to consolidate the gains he made in the 1948 War and take his Greater Syria scheme one step forward; but King Farouk's government rallied the other Arab countries in opposing Abdullah's design and forced him to desist. In 1964-65, President Nasser, having been preoccupied for several years with the formation of the United Arab Republic, a conflict with Qassem's Iraq, the secession of Syria, an experiment in cooperation with the United States, and the Yemen War, was finding it useful to maintain quiescent relations with Israel. This led his disparate Syrian, Jordanian and Saudi enemies of the time to mount a constant propaganda campaign against him-taunting him for giving up the struggle, hiding behind the United Nations Emergency Force, allowing Israeli navigation through the Straits of Tiran, and remaining passive in the face of Israel's diversion of part of the Jordan River waters for irrigation schemes. These attacks contributed in large measure to Nasser's precipitate behavior in May 1967.
Immediately after the 1967 War, Egypt was prepared to go along with a formula for settlement worked out by Secretary of State Rusk and Foreign Minister Gromyko, which envisaged the termination of belligerence in exchange for Israel's withdrawal. However, a sharp protest by Algeria, behind which the other Arab states rallied, deterred Egypt and frustrated the entire project. The same outbidding operated in the Arab summit at Khartoum in August 1967, to produce the three famous "No's," (no negotiation, no recognition, no peace) which undercut the real chances of a general settlement that existed at the time and which led to the "war of attrition" and its sequels.
The disengagement agreements finally broke through this nefarious process and, for once, allowed the more moderate approach in the existing configuration of Arab forces to prevail. True, the objective and subjective circumstances were highly favorable: the October War had brought neither victory nor defeat to either side; the antagonisms among the Arab countries had been greatly reduced before the war as a result of a complex interplay of forces, including the 1967 War, the decline of ideological fervor among the various regimes, the accidents of Syrian politics, and the death of Nasser. Sadat's weak standing in the Arab world in comparison with his predecessor, ironically, made it easier for him to forge an all-Arab war coalition that transcended all previous divisions. Last but not least was Sadat's forbearance, his decision not to use the greatly enhanced position of the Arabs in the wake of the October War for further confrontation and war (as some of his advisers were urging him to do), but instead to avail himself of that position in order to seek a settlement.
All of this, however, does not detract from the accomplishment of the Secretary of State. During the October War he pursued a policy which was carefully calculated to bring about a "negotiating situation" and to gain for the United States the trust of Arabs as well as Israelis. The importance of this is evident when it is recalled that comparably favorable circumstances had existed at more than one juncture in the past, particularly after the 1970 ceasefire, but these were allowed to slip by, and what efforts there were to take advantage of them were badly conceived.
Not only did the disengagement agreements stop the mutual outbidding in extremism, but, in a certain sense, they set in motion a reverse process. Sadat took the first step forward at considerable risk of finding himself berated as a deserter of the Arab cause abroad and the Nasserite heritage at home, and criticized as a dupe of the United States. Once he did so, however, his act put heavy pressure on Syria to follow suit, or risk finding itself confronting Israel alone, or with the inadequate help of the Iraqis and the Libyans. For Sadat had deliberately spoken ambivalently on the issue: while affirming that if matters came to a general war between Syria and Israel he would not keep out, he also indicated that he was not prepared to let Egypt's fate be decided by others. While he sought with the first kind of statement to discourage Israel from courting the failure of the Syrian talks in the hope of then confronting Syria alone, with the second position he wanted to discourage the Syrians from deliberately doing the same in the hope of dragging Egypt into renewed fighting. The same process can be seen at work now with respect to the Palestinian resistance, albeit in a somewhat more complicated way due to the circumstances under which it functions.
Once Syria joined Egypt in the movement toward settlement, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) has been confronted with the necessity to redefine its objective and strategy. The question is whether to continue the armed struggle for the realization of the ideal of "liberating" all of Palestine at the almost certain risk of being isolated from all the Arab countries around Israel, or whether to try to jump on the bandwagon of settlement and seek to establish a state in parts of Palestine occupied by Israel in the 1967 War. The deliberations of the Palestinian National Council, which met in Cairo in June 1974 to deal with the issue, suggest that the majority did not press its views to a clear decision that would have unnecessarily split the ranks of the organization. Nevertheless, the resolution actually adopted-to establish "national authority" in any part of "liberated" Palestine-seems to clear the way for the leadership to explore the possibilities of the more restricted goal with the powers concerned.
A particularly interesting feature of the disengagement agreements is that they involved the transcendence of the previous patterns of inter-Arab antagonisms and alignments and the formation of a novel combination pregnant with crucial new possibilities. Over the years of inter-Arab strife, there have been many combinations and recombinations of countries under various slogans and for various purposes. There has been throughout a basic division between so-called "conservative" and "radical" states; however, the composition of each changed continually as the conservative camp periodically lost members in the wake of military coups, and as the radical camp split, recombined, and split again into groups that fought each other no less vehemently than they fought the conservative grouping. Never in all this constant alternation of patterns, however, was there an alignment that significantly bound together Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia, with the blessing of Algeria, as the disengagement agreements effectively did.
To realize the importance of this alignment it should be remembered that Saudi Arabia had been for 15 years the uncontested leader and mainstay of the conservative camp, while Egypt, Syria and Algeria have shared and disputed the leading role in the radical camp. Their getting together is all the more important, and more likely to endure, because it is based on newly found common interests which have been strong enough to overcome their bitter past antagonisms. These interests have to do with the political stability of the regimes or their territorial integrity, as well as the national security and future welfare of all four countries.
The detailed steps and interaction of policies and personalities that produced the new alignment need not be examined in any detail. To point out only its highlights, the process began with the formation of a Cairo-Riyad political axis and a Cairo-Damascus military axis; this was followed in the wake of the October War by a period of strain between Egypt and Syria which threatened for a time to throw relations between these two countries back to the previous pattern of rivalry and to undermine even the Saudi-Egyptian axis; in the end it was the conclusion of the Israeli-Syrian disengagement agreement that averted these possibilities, eased the strains between Egypt and Syria, and thus consolidated the new alignment. In any event, the consequences of this new alignment are now crucial.
First, the new combination has brought together the Arab countries with the most military and political clout in an active pursuit of a settlement, and has effectively isolated Iraq and Libya, the two remaining recalcitrants. The majority of the PLO, as we have seen, has also been preparing to walk the settlement road. The fact that all the countries around Israel are included in the new grouping makes it particularly significant.
Second, the grouping brings together countries with an immense surplus of liquid wealth and others with a severe dearth of capital; it is certain to entail a vast flow of assistance funds and investments from the former to the latter for reasons of self-interest as well as solidarity. This should enhance the chances of a viable peace by adding to the negative interest of the have-not countries in a settlement-that war has proved to be onerous and inconclusive-a positive interest in undreamed-of prospects of development and prosperity.
Third, the fact that the once-radical members of the alignment have cooperated with the United States in reaching the disengagement agreements and are bound to go on working closely with it in the search for a final settlement has made it possible for the conservative members to be much more forthcoming in expressing and developing their traditional close relationship with the United States. Thus, no sooner was the Syrian-Israeli agreement ratified than Saudi Arabia's Emir Fahd came to Washington and quickly concluded far-reaching agreements for military, economic, scientific, technological and cultural cooperation. In the absence of a reversal toward confrontation and war, these will prove to be only a beginning and will in all likelihood be followed by other agreements with Saudi Arabia as well as other oil-rich countries.
Finally, the same fact of rapprochement with the United States on the part of radical Arab countries, coupled with the expected flow of economic assistance to them on a large scale from the United States and the conservative countries, bids fair to erode the conservative-radical dichotomy entirely, and to place the United States in a position of trust and influence in much of the Arab world. For, of the criteria that separated conservative from radical countries in the past, the only one that was valid without exception was that the radical states were hostile to the United States, while the conservative ones were friendly toward it. Coming a mere six months after the United States was the object of active odium on the part of all but two or three Arab countries, the reversal in the American position, engineered through the disengagement agreements and dramatically brought to the consciousness of the Arab masses through President Nixon's visit to the region, is portentous.
One of the most disquieting prospects raised by the October War was that of the Middle East falling under almost exclusive Soviet predominance. The opportunistic decision of the Soviets to give Egypt and Syria massive logistic support when it became apparent that they were doing much better than expected militarily, the successful Soviet pressure for a ceasefire when the tide of the war turned against the two Arab countries, and the bold threat to intervene directly in order to check Israel's exploitation of an advantageous position on the battlefield bid fair to far more than recoup for the Soviets the position they had lost when President Sadat expelled Soviet advisers from Egypt the year before. Since all the Arab countries were lined up behind Egypt and Syria, and since countries traditionally friendly to the United States had joined countries traditionally hostile to it in imposing sanctions against it, the Soviets' moves placed them in effect in the role of a shield and buttress of an all-Arab coalition hostile to the United States. With an entrenched position in four or five "radical" countries and with influence radiating through them to the other Arab countries, the Russians seemed in a position to reduce the American position in the Middle East to one or two footholds, in Israel and perhaps Iran.
The consequences of this would have gone far beyond the obvious blow to American prestige and interests in the region and would have endangered the peace of the world and the stability of the international order. For, clearly, such a polarization would have been merely a prelude to intensified confrontation between the two sides. With its newly gained predominance at stake, the Soviet Union would hardly have been able to keep out of a new war if it were to take a bad turn for the Arabs; and if the Soviets were to intervene, or if the war were to turn out badly for Israel and endanger its existence and the last American foothold in the area, the United States would have been unable to keep out. Needless to say, détente and all its attendant hopes would have fallen by the way early in the process.
Even if such cataclysmic developments did not come to pass, the direct or proxy influence that the Soviet Union would have had, in that scenario, on the flow of Middle East oil would have put Western Europe to ransom, possibly even forcing it to abandon the alliance with the United States and adhere to a Finnish-type neutrality. That the West European countries are susceptible to this kind of blackmail is suggested by their attitude and behavior during and immediately after the October War. During the war, they demonstrably dissociated themselves from the U.S. effort to assist Israel, in complete forgetfulness of the Soviet actions that had triggered the American reactions. After the war, they not only suppressed whatever sympathy or scruples they may have had toward Israel and hurried to subscribe to political formulations demanded by the Arabs, but they also blamed the United States for their plight and scrambled to make whatever bilateral or multilateral deals they could with the Arab states. At the same time they advanced their distance from the United States as an argument for being accorded favorable consideration. Of course, the Europeans justify their behavior by pointing out that their very livelihood depends on Middle East oil; but the greater the consideration one gives to this argument, the greater the degree of likelihood one must accord to their succumbing to the kind of Soviet pressure being discussed.
The actual situation now is the exact opposite of the one that loomed last October. Nine months after the war, the likelihood, in part already realized, is of an America deeply entrenched in several Middle Eastern countries on both sides of the Arab-Israeli lines, in both Arab camps as well as in Iran, and radiating influence through the rest of the area, while the Soviet Union retains a few residual footholds. The elements that made this revolution possible go much farther and deeper than the disengagement agreements. They include strong shared interests with the United States on the part of conservative Arab countries, beneath their expressed resentment of American policy toward Israel; strong resentment on the part of radical Arab countries toward the Soviet Union, beneath their cooperation with it; fears on the part of both radical and conservative Arab countries about the costs and outcome of continuing confrontation and war; and hopes on the part of the Arabs that American behavior in the last stage of the October War, which saved them from the humiliation of another defeat, portended a favorable change in American policy. The disengagement agreements made successful use of these elements in order to consummate the revolution.
The implications of an eventual American predominance in the Middle East are as far-reaching as those that would have followed a Soviet predominance-only in the opposite sense. The prospect of Soviet ascendancy presupposed a united Arab front against the United States and continued Arab-Israeli confrontation and preparation for war; whereas the prospect of American ascendancy depends on U.S. assistance in achieving peace, and on U.S. maintenance of good relations with Israel as well as the Arab states, conservative as well as radical. Moreover, success in achieving peace-the condition for American predominance-depends on the United States' securing a measure of cooperation on the part of the Soviet Union, which could otherwise find many ways to obstruct it; whereas Soviet backing of a united Arab front against the United States and Israel-the condition for Soviet predominance-would be ipso facto confrontation. Thus, the prospect of American ascendancy is compatible with advancing détente, whereas Soviet ascendancy could be advanced only to its detriment.
Regarding American-European relations, the prospect of American ascendancy based on successful American mediation of peace should put to rest the anxieties of West European countries about disruption of their oil supply as a result of Middle East confrontation and war, or Soviet manipulation of that supply from a position of predominance. This should obviate the need for these countries to distort their relations with Israel, and to dissociate themselves actively from the United States in order to curry Arab favor. To that extent, an important source of strain on intra-NATO relations would be removed, and talks on European security and mutual and balanced force reductions, which had suffered from that strain, could proceed more smoothly.
There will remain the problem of Europe's financing the deficits arising from rocketing oil prices, which could complicate existing monetary problems if the United States were to use its preeminent position in order to score undue advantage over the Europeans in trade with Middle Eastern countries. However, this need not happen if the European countries should adjust their perceptions and seek to cooperate with America in meeting the problem, rather than go it alone in competition with her, as they were recently tempted to do. Such cooperation already can be pursued within a framework of negotiation rather than confrontation with the oil-producing countries thanks to the emerging American position. It also happens to offer the best, perhaps the only, chance for bringing about a gradual reduction in the price of oil.
In view of the dangers averted by the disengagement agreements and the bright prospects they opened up for the area and for the United States, there can be no doubt that the time and effort invested by Secretary Kissinger in making them possible were extremely worthwhile. No other area of American foreign policy required more urgent attention, and none was as pregnant with potential dangers and rewards. It should be clear, however, that the time and effort of the Secretary of State were not the only investments made by the United States in the situation. Whatever may have been his expectations or intentions when he began his efforts to separate the forces of Egypt and Israel as a prelude to negotiations, by the time he was through with the Syrian-Israeli disengagement accord, he had engaged the United States in the future of the Middle East more immediately and intimately than ever before. The commitments involved may not be apparent at first sight; therefore it might be useful to review them before considering their significance for the United States.
Perhaps a good way to understand the nature and scope of the American engagement is to look in a summary way at the process by which the disengagement agreements were achieved. The foundation for the agreements had actually been laid before the Independence II set wheels in the area, through four deliberate, crucial acts executed by Washington during the October War. The first was the massive resupply operation to help Israel, following the Soviet resupplying of the Arabs; the second was the decision to request $2.2 billion in emergency assistance to Israel; the third was the decision to join the Soviet Union in imposing a ceasefire when the tide of the war seemed to have turned decisively against the Arabs; and the fourth was the United States' forcing of Israel to open a supply line to the beleaguered Egyptian III Corps. Some people in the American foreign policy establishment immediately dubbed this series of decisions "even-handedness" and thereby entirely missed the point.
That point was not to set the United States up as some sort of Olympian power dispensing stern justice to unruly Arabs and Israelis, but to try to set up a "negotiating situation" through the commitment of American power in a way that conveyed certain relevant messages. The decisions were intended to convey to Israel, in sight of the Arabs, that the United States was willing and able to go a long way to ensure its security, but that it did not believe that a viable solution to the conflict could be achieved through the sheer imposition of Israeli will on the Arabs by military force. At the same time, these were meant to convey to the Arabs, in sight of Israel, that they could not accomplish their proclaimed aims by force either, while equally the United States was not interested in their humiliation and defeat. A fifth decision, the worldwide alert of American forces, was meant to neutralize Soviet interference with the communication of these messages.
These decisions forcefully structured a situation that helped make the option of continuing confrontation and war highly unattractive to the parties, and the option of negotiation more promising than it had been before. The acceptance of Secretary Kissinger by the two parties in the fortunately vague role of intermediary-moderator-mediator signified an acceptance on their part of the "reality" he had helped engineer, and allowed him to reformulate his approach in more positive terms. He stated to both parties, with a shift in stress but with no apologies, the conviction of the United States that a settlement required that Israel be confident of its own security and that the Arabs be confident that their legitimate aspirations would be respected. With the weight of the recent actions by the United States behind this proposition, he plunged into his task.
In the course of the negotiations, Secretary Kissinger exerted no pressure on the parties other than that of reason. The real pressures were implicit in the situation he had helped to shape, in the form of the dangers and costs that Egypt and Israel faced if the talks failed and war were resumed. In the Syrian situation, the structural pressure that Kissinger exploited was the fear on the part of Israel that failure might undo the agreement with Egypt, and on the part of Syria that it might leave Damascus alone to confront Israel.
The Secretary was also careful throughout the negotiations not to take a firm, formal position on any issue under discussion, in order to avoid the role of arbitrator when the parties were not committed in advance to accept his judgment. Such a role would have brought about the end of negotiations the moment one of the parties refused to go along with a position of his, and would have put the United States under the obligation to side actively with the party that had agreed with it or to risk losing credibility and usefulness. This was precisely the kind of predicament into which former Secretary of State Rogers had allowed the United States to be driven when he proclaimed the specific plan that came to be associated with his name. Secretary Kissinger rather allowed the negotiations to take their course, and only when these had brought the positions of the parties so close together that an intervention was virtually certain to close the remaining gap did he present "American proposals," which in fact were always accepted.
However salutary for the negotiations, this procedure nevertheless involved responsibility on the part of the United States for the proposals he formulated. One need only recall the example of the standstill ceasefire proposal of the summer of 1970, presented by the United States and agreed to by Egypt and Israel. The subsequent violation of the standstill provisions by Egypt gave rise to American-Israeli acrimony as well as worsened American-Egyptian feelings and resulted in the United States' feeling obligated to provide Israel with extra arms as "compensation" for the disadvantage it incurred as a result of Egypt's action.
In any case, in the recent negotiations this procedure did not always suffice-a further degree of American participation was sometimes required. On several occasions the parties were substantially in agreement regarding issues under discussion, but one side or the other, for a variety of reasons, refused to have the agreement put down in writing. Such was the case, for example, with the question of a written commitment to rebuild the Suez Canal cities and to allow Israeli cargo to go through the canal when reopened-which Israel demanded and Egypt refused to give-and the question of a written commitment that further Israeli withdrawals from Sinai would follow, which Egypt demanded and Israel refused. The same was the case with the question of fortifying the hills overlooking Quneitra, which the Syrians wanted explicitly prohibited while Israel demurred. In all such instances, the Secretary of State received oral or written assurances from one side on the issue involved, on the strength of which he issued his own written assurances to the other. These assurances were expressions of the American "understanding" of the situation rather than guarantees of compliance; nevertheless, their violation was clearly bound to make the United States something of an "aggrieved" party alongside the local victim.
With what consequences? It is hard to predict, since much will depend on the gravity of the issue and the context in which the violation takes place. This much is clear, however: the greater the involvement of the United States, in whatever form, in the specific details of the situation, the less will be its freedom to act, or abstain from action, in future contingencies.
In at least one known instance, even this device was not deemed sufficient by Israel: that was the case of the commitment it sought from Syria to prevent guerrilla incursions from Syrian territory. In order to overcome the stalemate that developed, Secretary Kissinger openly and formally committed the United States to give Israel political support if it took action to protect itself against such acts. In addition, there have been various hints that the United States promised to help Israel guard its borders by providing it with sophisticated anti-guerrilla-warfare equipment as part of a larger military commitment.
In order to "encourage Israel to persevere in the negotiations, assured of its own strength and of American support," and in order, more specifically, to induce Israel to take the symbolically crucial step of pulling back from the 1967 line with Syria, Washington promised to try to place American military assistance and the supply of arms to Israel on a long-term basis. Should Secretary Kissinger succeed in this endeavor-which will depend, of course, on the willingness of Congress to overcome its traditional reticence to approve aid commitments on other than a yearly basis-he will have committed the United States to the nearest thing to a formal alliance with Israel. But even if Congress should refuse to break its tradition, a long-term commitment by the Executive alone, contingent upon approval of its annual installments by Congress, is likely, in the particular case of Israel, to have practically the same effect if Congress does in fact grant the installments for a few years.
In addition to these obligations and involvements, the United States assumed in the course of the disengagement negotiations various commitments which, while not part of the agreements, were meant to facilitate them and prepare the ground for further movement toward a settlement. One of these was the promise of American help in clearing the Suez Canal, already fulfilled. Another was a promise of economic aid, already submitted for approval to Congress, involving as a start $250 million for Egypt, $207 million for Jordan, $100 million potentially for Syria, in addition to $350 million for Israel. A third commitment was a promise of a much more comprehensive program of cooperation on a bilateral basis, which began with a specific American-Saudi agreement signed in Washington, and proceeded with an American-Egyptian agreement in principle concluded in the course of President Nixon's visit to Egypt. A striking item in the latter was the U.S. commitment to provide Egypt with a 600-megawatt nuclear reactor and fuel to operate it for peaceful uses, as well as a matching commitment to Israel.
Two crucial features stand out from the previous review. The first is that it was American intervention of different sorts and at different times that made the disengagement negotiations possible and ensured their success. American action in the form of the series of tough decisions vis-à-vis the Arabs, Israel, and the Soviets created the situation that made war undesirable and peace a realistic, promising option for all parties. The further decisions to support Israel's defense on a long-term basis and to engage in comprehensive aid and cooperation programs with the Arab countries helped maintain that framework and encourage the two sides to adopt more flexible positions. In addition, American contributions in the form of mediated assurances, proposals, and specific promises regarding particular issues were necessary in order to overcome obstacles and break deadlocks.
The second important feature is that American commitments have tended to snowball as the negotiations advanced from area to area and issue to issue. Generally speaking, the Syrian-Israeli agreement required more specific and weighty commitments than the Egyptian-Israeli agreement; and the conclusion of the Syrian-Israeli agreement in turn activated a series of aid commitments to Egypt that had been contingent upon it, and to Israel in order to balance those to Egypt. Underlying that tendency for accumulating American obligations is the same motivation that has impelled the Arabs and the Israelis forward: the urge to secure the gains already achieved, and the fear of the consequences of failure.
As we look ahead to the future with these features and rationale in mind, it seems certain that additional and increasingly weighty American commitments will have to be made in the course of the next rounds of negotiations. For one thing, the issues ahead-including the boundaries between Israel and three of its neighbors, security, Jerusalem, the Palestinians-are much more difficult than those involved in the disengagement agreements and will require more American interventions of a serious nature in order to alter the configurations making for deadlock. For another thing, there is already a great deal at stake that needs to be protected against a process of unraveling that would begin with the first major failure-and there are many potential sources of failure that need to be guarded against by enhancing the interest of all in peace. Above all, however, the United States will have to undertake more commitments because the commitments it has already undertaken have made it practically a party to the separation agreements, and their breakdown is therefore bound to involve America in the ensuing conflict more directly and with less discretion than ever before.
All this seems to bear an ominous resemblance to the recent tragedy of escalating American commitments in Vietnam. This is probably the reason why the Secretary of State has gone out of his way to assure Congress and the American people that the United States has concluded no secret agreement with any of the parties, and to underplay the significance and scope of the obligations already assumed. But the analogy with Vietnam is extremely tenuous and the defensiveness of the Administration is both unjustified and potentially damaging to its credibility and future ability to deal with the Middle East problem. In Vietnam, the escalation of the American involvement only expanded and deepened the war, whereas the commitments assumed and to be expected in the Middle East are directed to averting war. In Vietnam, the American interest was never clear and convincing, and the ostensible aim of the war seemed to expand or shrink in accordance with the means committed; in the Middle East the interests at stake are monumental, if properly understood, and justify commitments comparable to those that have ensured the peace in Europe and the global order since World War II. Consequently, the Administration would be better advised to stress those interests, instead of minimizing the commitments that would serve them. American wealth and power and American intelligence and idealism have seldom had a worthier object.