October 9, 2001
It's Freedom, Stupid
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
I happened to be reading Richard Reeves's compelling new biography of Richard Nixon last week, when a paragraph about Israel caught my eye. It was a memo that Nixon wrote to Henry Kissinger in 1969, describing his, and America's, feelings about Israel: "[The Israelis] must recognize that our interests are basically pro-freedom and not just pro- Israel because of the Jewish vote. . . . [Golda] Meir . . . must trust [Nixon] completely. He will see to it that Israel always has `an edge.' This is going to be the policy of this country. Unless [Israelis] understand it, and act as if they understood it right now, they are down the tubes."
I find this quote so revealing because Nixon didn't like Jews, but he understood Americans you don't get elected president without that. And what he understood was that the animating vision of America in the world is the promotion and protection of freedom freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of markets and freedom of politics. And that while America might align itself with all sorts of countries for economic or strategic reasons, in the end it was those who were "basically pro-freedom" whom America would never abandon and with whom America would always share a special bond.
I am not sure all our coalition partners in the war against Osama bin Laden understand that. The truth is, our real coalition partners can be counted on a few fingers: the British, France, Canada, Germany, Australia, Japan. The Saudis, Egyptians and Syrians are not, and will not be, members of this coalition in any equal sense not because they don't have military power to contribute, but because deep down these Arab regimes do not share the values that we're trying to defend.
These Arab regimes are whispering members of the coalition they whisper their support in our ear but they cannot be full-throated members, they cannot openly tell their people they are on our side. Because our side is out for the defense of freedom, and their goal is not the preservation of freedom for their own societies or for others. Their goal is self-preservation.
"Regimes such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia or the Palestinian Authority have a legitimate fear of democracy they fear that free elections would be exploited by Islamist extremists who are basically undemocratic," said the Mideast specialist Stephen P. Cohen. "But these Arab leaders have to understand that if we root out these extremists who've been produced by their own bad governance we are not doing it so these regimes can keep their countries free of democracy for everyone else. We want to make the world safe for democracy, and they want to make the Arab world safe from democracy."
The other guy who doesn't get it is Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel. His suggestion that America was in danger of acting like those who appeased Hitler on the eve of World War II because Mr. Bush reiterated U.S. support for a Palestinian state was stupid and offensive.
Yes, Mr. Bush should have elaborated, by saying that "We favor a Palestinian state, but after the last year we don't know whether we have a serious Palestinian leader ready to live in peace with Israel in such a state." Still, it's outrageous to suggest that after all the military, diplomatic and economic support America has given Israel over decades that America is now going to sell Israel out.
Attention, Mr. Sharon: America is now fighting for its freedom the same battle we have aided Israel in all these years and when we are fighting for our freedom there is only one thing for Israel to say: How can we help? Period.
There's one more thing Mr. Sharon needs to understand: Americans want to destroy this terrorist menace so that we and all other free nations, including Israel, can really enjoy our freedom. That's what it's all about. But we are not out to destroy this extremist menace so that Israel will be free to build more settlements or to eat up more Palestinian land. Today the Palestinians are literally at war with each other over whether to make peace with Israel. But if and when the Palestinians ever get their peace act together, Mr. Sharon needs to realize that we are out to make the world safe for Israel to be free, not safe for Israel to occupy the West Bank according to his biblical map and saying that is not appeasement, it's American.Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company