President Clinton's decision to come to the Middle East was courageous, wise and timely. Although the visit was occasioned by the signing of the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty, it will have far-reaching implications on the Middle East's new emerging order. The cynicism that surrounds the president's motivation notwithstanding, the president has seized a historic opportunity to further Arab-Israeli peace, which is vital to American strategic interests.
At the signing ceremony on the southern border between Israel and Jordan, the president sent a clear message to those who reject the peace that the weight of America is behind it. Nothing could leave a greater impression on friends and foes in the region than the firm words of the US president pledging to support those who make peace their strategic choice.
In Amman, President Clinton served notice to Jordan's Moslem Brotherhood, who reject the peace, that their future is tied to their king's fortunes and their economic prosperity and security to peace with Israel. The appearance of the president of the US in the Jordanian parliament sent an unmistakable signal that America stands behind King Hussein and his democratic political reform efforts.
In Jerusalem, the president's sympathetic words will go a long way toward healing the wounds of a nation that has just buried 22 innocent men, women and children, victims of Hamas's latest hideous act of terror.
The Israelis will soon be asked to make major territorial concessions to Syria on the Golan, which many feel could further compromise their security. In their agonizing battle for peace and security, the Israelis will now, more than any time before, look to America for guarantees. America's unshakable moral commitment to Israel, delivered from the Knesset chamber, would reassure skeptical Israelis that their ultimate security lies in real peace, and not with territory.
In Damascus, the president will doubtless nudge Hafez Assad closer toward accepting Israel's needs for time and phased withdrawal to achieve an agreement on the Golan. Symbolized by the president's visit himself, the US acknowledges Syria's indispensable role in achieving a comprehensive peace. Moreover, the recognition of Assad as a power player will further enhance his stature in the eyes of his own countrymen, which will allow him to show more flexibility.
The visit will greatly mitigate the fact that Syria is still listed as a state that sponsors terrorism, paving the way for the removal of that stigma. Assad made that a condition for being more forthcoming in negotiating with Israel and for his cooperation in combating terrorism outside his borders.
In Riyadh, the Clinton visit will underscore America's deep and permanent commitment to the security of the desert kingdom, guardian of Islam's holiest religious shrines. The message will not go unnoticed in either Iran or Iraq. Public support by Saudi Arabia of the Israeli-Jordanian peace, which President Clinton will clearly elicit, is particularly important. It will help dispel the growing notion among Islamists that Islam and an independent Jewish state are an oxymoron.
In Cairo, the president will meet with an important American ally who is plagued with an Islamic fundamentalist problem of his own and needs all the help he can get. President Mubarak, as the power broker between Israel and other Arab entities, has rendered invaluable service to the peace efforts, especially with the Palestinians. The president's visit could further strengthen Mubarak.
Weakened by mounting economic problems and rising tensions with Hamas, Chairman Yasser Arafat could greatly strengthen his position after having met with President Clinton in Cairo. Arafat will be expected to do a lot more to curb Hamas, especially if he returns to Gaza fortified with US financial aid.
In Kuwait City, the president will certainly reaffirm America's resolve to protect its allies. The presence of thousands of American troops dispatched to Kuwait has not only ended Saddam Hussein's intimidation of that country, but served notice that America acts swiftly when its vital interests are threatened. Visiting Kuwait also makes a clear statement about the US dual containment policy, which actively seeks to contain Iraq and Iran, preventing both from again becoming major regional powers capable of threatening their neighbors.
Cynics who accuse the president of using his Middle East trip to improve his sagging political ratings are missing the point. Could Clinton have declined the invitation and missed a historic opportunity to push the peace process forward and assert America's position and strategic interest? No, as a statesman, he could not.