By Christopher Brauchli
There’s one thing George Bush knows. You don’t get to be the biggest arms merchant in the world by only selling arms to friends. If that were the case the only countries to which we’d sell arms would be countries like Great Britain and Canada and they’re not going to buy enough to keep us in first place. And it’s not Mr. Bush’s fault that he doesn’t know that there is a history in the United States of selling arms to people who have ended up using the arms against the United States. After all, it’s hard enough for him to keep up with what’s going on right now.
If he knew history, he’d know that in the 1980s the United States sold Iran 12,000 anti-tank missiles, 235 Hawk missiles and 200 Phoenix air-to-air missiles costing more than $1 million each. He’d recall that when we thought Mr. bin Laden was our friend for trying to kick the Soviets out of Afghanistan (a country to which we are now bringing law and order in order to show the Russians how good old American know-how can get the job done) we provided him with stinger missiles. The ones bin Laden couldn’t use he sold to Iran and got cash that has helped in his ongoing battle with his former arms supplier). Now Mr. Bush is arming the Palestinian organization known as Fatah.
President Mahmoud Abbas is a member of the Fatah party and the president of the Palestinian Authority. He was elected in 2005 and until 2006 Fatah controlled the Palestinian Authority. Some parts of Fatah get along with Israel-sort of. In 2006 legislative elections were held. Hamas won and took control of parliament. Fatah cabinet members resigned and were replaced by Hamas members. Hamas does not get along with Israel. It wants it removed from the face of the earth. Since the elections, relations between Fatah and Hamas have been tense and often violent. The two groups have tried unsuccessfully to form a unity government and since that failed have resorted to shooting at one another in the streets.
Mr. Bush is very concerned about the destabilizing effect a full-scale conflict between the two groups could have on the region. He fears it could turn into another Iraq. One way of dealing with the concern would be for him to initiate talks with the two groups and see if there is a way forward that would protect Israel’s right to exist while at the same time eliminating the risk of civil war between Hamas and Fatah. That is impossible because the United States (and Israel for that matter) do not talk to groups that are dedicated to the destruction of Israel. Mr. Bush also doesn’t talk to countries he doesn’t like but that’s another story. Ever creative, Mr. Bush has another plan. Sell arms.
Mr. Bush is going to pour $86 million into the coffers of Fatah. That is more than the total of all the monies the United States has given the PLO since it was formed in 1994. None of this aid would be necessary if Fatah had not lost the 2006 election. The money will help it regain what it lost at the ballot box. Mr. Bush understands that kind of thinking since he had to go the Supreme Court to become president after losing at the ballot box.
According to media reports in late December, with Israel’s and the United States’s approval, 2,000 AK-47s and two million bullets were transferred to Mr. Abbas’s security forces, many of whom are loyal to Mr. Abbas and to Fatah. (Fatah’s armed wing known as Al-Aqsa fighters are hostile to Israel and some Fatah folk have launched attacks against both the U.S and Israel but Mr. Bush hopes those people won’t be given those weapons.) With $86 million it’s a sure bet there will be lots more weapons heading Fatah’s way. More arms is a sure fire way to bring peace to that region.
There is, of course, always the chance that the arms being sold will eventually be used against the merchant (us) or even Israel. That is because there are people loyal to Fatah who dislike Israel. Bassam Eid, head of the Palestinian Rights Monitoring Group in East Jerusalem says the Fatah faction is not a moderate movement and that the infusion of cash will "double the number of thugs" in Fatah. Dennis Roth, a Middle East advisor to two administrations said: "The $86 million reflects the basic sense in the administration that the only way to change things is through confrontation."
That is not surprising. Bullies are usually inarticulate and prefer a show of force to a show of brains, especially when not possessed of the latter. Mr. Bush is their poster child.