The American war against Saddam Hussein represents a significant departure from the traditional U.S. posture of appeasing Arab terrorist regimes.
Hopefully, it will be just the first step in a new approach to combating terrorism.
In the past, the United States consistently refrained from taking serious action against Arab regimes that sponsored terrorists. Instead, it tried to appease those regimes by offering them military and financial assistance and pressuring Israel to make territorial and other concessions.
After the creation of the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1964, the governments of Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia provided the PLO with funds, safe haven, training facilities and weapons. One Israeli anti-terror raid on PLO bases in Lebanon uncovered crates of United States-made rifles that had been given to Saudi Arabia, which the Saudis then gave to the PLO.
Yet instead of taking action against these terror sponsors, the Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford administrations pursued friendly relations with Cairo, Damascus, Amman and Riyadh, gradually increasing U.S. aid to those regimes. Even worse, the United States began pressuring Israel to give those regimes the strategically crucial territories that Israel had won in self-defense when Egypt, Jordan and Syria attacked in 1967.
The policy of appeasing pro-terror regimes continued during the Jimmy Carter administration. The supply of American weapons to Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia increased, and Israel was pressured to make concessions to the Palestinian Arabs.
When Israel struck at PLO terrorists in Lebanon and temporarily took over a narrow strip of border territory that had been used by the PLO, Carter pressured Israel to retreat -- just five years after PLO terrorists, acting on Yasser Arafat's direct orders, murdered two American diplomats in Khartoum.
Officials in the Ronald Reagan administration seemed to understand the terror threat more clearly, yet when it came to Arab regimes that sponsored anti-Israel terror, that familiar blind spot surfaced. Instead of using its leverage to force the Arab regimes to stop sponsoring terror, the administration unveiled the 1982 Reagan Plan, which, in effect, rewarded the Palestinian Arabs for their terrorism by proposing an Israeli withdrawal to the indefensible pre-1967 borders, and the creation of a Palestinian Arab regime in the vacated territories.
Israel's leaders called the plan "national suicide for Israel." Reagan's token bombings of Libya and Syria, in response to specific anti-American terrorist attacks sponsored by those regimes, turned out to be one-time gestures, not manifestations of a new policy.
During the administrations of George Bush (senior) and Bill Clinton, the appeasement policy reached new lows. Courting pro-terror Arab regimes and pressuring Israel became a central focus of U.S. foreign policy. Bush did go to war against Iraq -- but because of its occupation of Kuwait and its oil fields, not because of Iraqi sponsorship of terror.
And all the while, U.S. military aid continued to flow into Egypt (over $2 billion annually), Jordan (its $700 million debt to the United States was forgiven and new weapons were supplied) and Saudi Arabia, and trade with Syria continued -- despite those regimes' continuing sponsorship of terrorism.
The United States failed to take decisive action against the terrorists or their sponsors, even when the attacks were directed at Americans. There was no serious response to the taking of American hostages by Iran, the bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon, the Khobar Towers attack in Saudi Arabia, the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, the downing of Pan Am 103 and so many other terrorist attacks. It was case after case of risk-free massacres of Americans.
The Clinton administration mastered the art of using pro-Israel rhetoric to soothe Israel's supporters, while carrying out policies that appeased terrorists and undermined Israel.
Palestinian Arab violations of the Oslo accords were ignored. Palestinian Arab terrorism galvanized the administration to put even more pressure on Israel. Arafat was showered with $100 million each year and was invited to the White House more often than other foreign leaders.
Clinton's secretaries of state visited Damascus literally dozens of times, desperately and unsuccessfully courting Syria's pro-terrorist regime. Just down the block from where U.S. officials met with Syrian leaders were the headquarters of at least 10 international terrorist groups, yet Clinton turned a blind eye.
The Bush administration's record has been equally troubling. Palestinian Arab violations have been whitewashed, and Israel's self-defense policies have been condemned as "excessive." The same administration that demanded regime change in Afghanistan and Iraq because of their sponsorship of terror, is pressuring Israel to give the terrorist Palestinian Authority regime its own sovereign state.
Under the Bush administration, Saudi Arabia is treated as an ally, despite its deep involvement in promoting Islamic terrorism. Syria is praised, despite its sponsorship of international terrorist groups.
Media reports indicate Bush is seeking a rapprochement with terrorist Libya. The administration even claims to detect signs of "moderation" in terrorist Iran and continues to prevent American victims of Iranian-sponsored terrorism from implementing court-ordered seizures of Iranian assets.
Terrorism cannot be fought on one front and ignored on another. To defeat terrorism worldwide, America needs to be consistent and uncompromising. Kabul and Baghdad should be just the first steps.
Replacing the pro-terrorist regimes in Riyadh, Damascus and Ramallah should be next on America's list.
Morton A. Klein is national president of the Zionist Organization of America