On his recent visit to Washington, Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres was a man with a mission. In his head he held a plan and in his briefcase he held some statistics. They showed that a combination of sinking oil prices and military profligacy had, as they don't say at the World Bank, busted some Arab countries. Contrary to what you might think, this did not make Peres' day.
Instead, it put the Israeli prime minister in a somber mood. In a meeting with Secretary of State George Shultz, Peres outlined his worries. A bankrupt Arab world is an unstable Arab world, he said. In particular, Peres was worried about Egypt. It was in trouble. Revenues from oil and tourism were way down and the moderate regime of Hosni Mubarak might be in trouble.
At about the same time that Shultz was hearing from Peres, others in his State Department were hearing from reporters. They were asking if it were true that the United States had on three occasions asked Egypt to consider joint military operations against Libya. The plans apparently varied, but they seemed to call for some combination of Egyptian troops and U.S. planes. The State Department confirmed the reports after the news leaked from Cairo.
The two events -- U.S attempts to enlist Egypt in its anti-Qaddafi crusade and Peres' attempts to enlist the United States in a program to help Egypt -- are juxtaposed here for a purpose: they illustrate differing, almost contradictory, world views. And they raise questions of whether the Reagan administration is so enamored of force that it fails to consider long-term implications.
For instance, the Egypt that figured in U.S. invasion plans bears little resemblance to the same country that so worries Peres. Peres' Egypt is a fragile society -- one whose last leader, Anwar Sadat, was assassinated by religious zealots. It's a country in economic trouble. Its security police recently went on a rampage because of low wages and miserable living conditions. Mubarak was able to handle the riots, but not the cause of them. None of that has changed.
The Egypt that worries Peres could be pitched into chaos by becoming an American ally in a joint operation against another Arab country. Moslem fundamentalists might balk at fighting their coreligionists and, in particular, such a leader as Qaddafi whose anti-Israel credentials are hardly in dispute. A combination of poverty, religious extremism and anti- Americanism could produce a fifth column. Even if the Mubarak regime survived, it might find itself once again isolated in the Arab world. Would it then be forced to assert its pan-Arab bona fides by repudiating the peace with Israel?
The plan for a joint operation might have made military sense -- but that's about it. It was drawn up in a srategic vacuum as if short- term gains were everything and nothing mattered but what the army likes to call "the mission." The reason it is worth citing at all is that it is similar to other recent Reagan administration actions in which legitimate questions were brushed aside in a rush to use force in the name of something called the Reagan Doctrine.
For instance, is it worth allying ourselves with Jonas Savimbi in Angola, when he himself is allied with the racist regime in South Africa? Is it worth giving Savimbi Stinger missiles if the Soviets and the Cubans respond by giving their Angolan allies even more sophisticated weapons? Is it worth supplying the same Stingers to the Afghan guerrillas and risk turning them over to other Moslem zealots whose enemy is not the Soviet Union -- but the United States or Israel?
You could ask similar questions about Nicaragua: what happens after the contras are trained and actually ready to fight? How lengthy a war will we support? What happens if the contras can't do the job? Will Americans have to? Is Nicaragua that important and can such a war ever be won anyway? Will the hills forever belong to the guerrillas?
The answers to these questions are not only not forthcoming; it's not clear they are even being asked. Complex problems are given to the military to simplify and courses are charted that will take years to change. Already, it would be hard to disengage from Nicaragua. Already, the use of force against Libya has begot even more force. A short-term "September Song" mentality has seized the administration. In foreign policy, it's no longer morning again in America. It's December.