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Experts Advise Greater US Role in Mideast Peace Process


The Bush administration is facing major challenges in the foreign policy arena which include three leading issues: the war on terrorism, the situation in Iraq, and the search for a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

The war on terrorism was a major challenge during President Bush's first term and it will remain at the top of his foreign policy list during the next four years

"We will persevere until the enemy is defeated," he said. "We will stay strong and resolute. We have a duty, a solemn duty to protect the American people and we will."

Many experts say the war on terrorism will dominate Mr. Bush's foreign policy. But they hope the president will seek greater international cooperation in dealing with terrorism. Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is still at large and experts say a united international community is needed to confront other terrorist groups.

Experts also say the ongoing violence in Iraq and the search for a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian question are two major challenges facing a second Bush administration.

Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Mack says in Iraq Mr. Bush must focus on reasonable goals.

"The administration has to settle on some achievable objectives, things that are believed to be absolutely necessary for the United States: such as to assure that Iraq does not become a haven for terrorists or resumes the production of weapons of mass destruction," he said. "But at the same time to realize, that within the context of Iraqi politics and Iraqi society, some of those other objectives that the administration talked about when it went into Iraq, such as transforming the entire Middle East through the establishment of a model democracy and a free market system in Iraq, are frankly unachievable, at least in any reasonable time frame."

Experts say U.S. officials are faced with the same issues they encountered during President Bush' first term: fighting insurgents, training Iraqi security forces and creating conditions favorable for elections in late January.

Michael O'Hanlon, a foreign policy expert with the Brookings Institution, says in the coming months, Mr. Bush will also have to address the question of the continuing presence of U.S. forces in Iraq.

"Do you decide in the course of 2005, that we should try to hasten our departure from Iraq: not in the sense of cutting and running, because the president said he would not do that and I believe that he is committed not to do that, but in the sense that our presence has become part of the problem in that the insurgents see us as occupying their country, think we're there for the long haul, trying to take their oil, etc., etc., and thereby the longer we stay, the more we help the insurgents recruit additional followers," he said. "And is it plausible, or desirable to say: 'We will now announce that in 2006 we will pull out at least two-thirds of our forces.' Is that sort of proposal sound and sensible, and would that actually make things better?"

Mr. O'Hanlon believes such a move could be beneficial.

On the question of finding a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians, many experts say Mr. Bush must play a far more active role. One of those is Lee Hamilton, former Chairman of the House International Relations Committee.

"No president can really dodge the Israeli-Palestinian crisis," he said. "The president has stepped back during recent years, but I do not think any other issue polarizes relations between the United States and the Islamic world as much as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And I think stability in that part of the world will not be achieved without some kind of approach or solution to the conflict."

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said recently there must be a renewed commitment to work toward peace in the Middle East. Many experts say the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat offers a unique chance to get the peace process back on track. Henry Nau is Professor of International Relations at George Washington University.

"He's been an enormous obstacle in every respect and basically, because of his legacy, you couldn't do anything until he left the scene. And with the passing of Arafat, I think the mix is there and I think Bush is going to see that. And if he doesn't see it, Blair is certainly going to make it very clear to him and I'm very hopeful that they are going to move on that front," he noted.

That view is shared by Michael O'Hanlon from the Brookings Institution.

"There is a strong argument for a much more activist role, because the reason Bush did not take an activist approach was that Clinton has tried so hard and failed, it seemed sort of pointless," added Mr. O'Hanlon. "And now the cause of Clinton's failure is passing from the scene, so we obviously should re-engage."

While experts agree the United States must breathe new life into the Middle East peace process, they question whether the Bush administration will have the political will to pursue that goal with the energy it requires.

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