"For by art is created that great LEVIATHAN called a COMMONWEALTH, or STATE, which is but an artificial man, though of greater stature and strength than the natural, for whose protection and defence it was intended."

-- Thomas Hobbes, "Leviathan"

"Palestine, Iraq, and American Strategy" argued against those who counseled the Bush administration to drop its fixation on Iraq and, instead, to fix Palestine. This advice did not address Washington's most pressing Middle Eastern problems--notable among them being the troubled state of US-Saudi relations. Devoting more attention to Palestine, I argued, simply offered no tangible benefits when it came to setting things right with Riyadh. Events have corroborated my analysis. For instance, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz has now publicly identified the need to withdraw American troops from Saudi Arabia as "an almost unnoticed but huge" factor that forced the Bush administration to attack Iraq.

Al Qaeda, of course, has been seeking to expel the Americans for at least seven years. After September 11th it increasingly wrapped itself in the flag of Palestine--as it did, once again, in November 2002, when it (to all appearances, at least) incinerated an Israeli resort in Mombasa, Kenya. Some analysts might be tempted to cite the Kenyan attacks as proof that Palestine has as special place in Osama bin Laden's black heart. They would, however, be hard pressed to make sense of the suicide mission in Riyadh on May 13, 2003. By bringing the struggle back to Saudi Arabia, al Qaeda drove home, so to speak, the fact that it seeks to foment revolution in Muslim heartlands. Palestine serves as little more than window dressing for this project.

At its core, "Palestine, Iraq and American Strategy" is nothing if not an argument in favor of a unipolar Middle East. In the absence of the guiding hand of Washington, a Hobbesian anarchy threatens. The Palestine-first argument, however, ignores the anarchical forces that beset this ill-starred region. It compresses a very complex political reality into a simplistic formula: solve Palestine and everything else will fall into place.

First and foremost, however, a stable Middle Eastern order requires a Leviathan--a power, that is, capable of disciplining all warring parties. The fall of Baghdad raised the specter of just such a beast and, thereby, created an opportunity for a few positive developments in the Palestinian-Israeli arena. These include: the rise of a semi-independent Palestinian Prime Minister, Mahmud Abbas; the rhetorical softening of Ariel Sharon's position on settlements; and a summit meeting between these two warring prime ministers. While peace is in no way threatening to break out, these developments are clearly the first, small fruits of the unipolar regional order.

By toppling Saddam, Washington decided--for the moment at least--in favor of a Pax Americana. Military victory in Iraq was a prerequisite for regional stability and a just international order, but it alone will ensure neither. A stable domestic order in Iraq is the bedrock of the new American system. The fitful steps that Washington has taken in postwar Iraq raise a question as to whether it has wholeheartedly committed itself to the role of Leviathan. Its range of choice in this matter, however, is now rather limited.

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  • Michael Scott Doran is Assistant Professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University and Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is the author of "Pan-Arabism Before Nasser: Egyptian Power Politics and the Palestine Question."
  • More By Michael Scott Doran