Courtesy Reuters

Palestine, Iraq, and American Strategy

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When toppling Saddam Hussein rose to the top of the Bush administration's foreign policy agenda, a chorus of voices protested that Washington had misdiagnosed the root cause of its Middle Eastern dilemmas. "It's Palestine, stupid!" was the refrain heard not only from European and Arab capitals, but from some quarters in the United States as well. These voices argued that attacking Iraq while the Israelis were reoccupying Palestinian lands would substantiate the claim, already widespread in the Middle East, that the United States had declared war against all Arabs and Muslims. The ensuing backlash would undermine the American position in the region and wreak havoc on American interests. What Washington really needed to do was postpone or abandon a showdown with Saddam and focus instead on achieving a breakthrough in the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations.

Unqualified U.S. support for Israel, the critics reason, drives a wedge between Washington and the Arabs, most of whom support Palestinian aspirations; for the United States to improve its regional position, it must remove the wedge by tilting somewhat toward the Palestinians. The problem with this argument is that it rests on two hidden and faulty assumptions: about how much Washington would have to change its stance, and about how much goodwill that change would produce.

Unfortunately, Americans and Arabs nurture such different conceptions of what constitutes a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that it is hard to imagine Washington ever adopting a policy toward it that would be truly popular in

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