The Wilson Center was honored this past September to play host to former president Jimmy Carter at an event marking the 25th anniversary of the historic Camp David Accords. During the negotiations at the presidential retreat, Carter recalled, Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat were "totally incompatible, shouting, banging on the table, stalking out of the rooms." But after nearly two weeks, Begin and Sadat signed the agreement, ending decades of conflict between Israel and Egypt. At the Wilson Center, Carter saluted the two men for showing "that when leaders are willing to take enormous risks, peace is possible." (For a report on the event, see the Center's website, www. wilsoncenter.org.)
A willingness to take risks is an essential element of statesmanship. So is the somewhat contradictory quality of patience. It took years of patient effort to get Israeli and Egyptian leaders to negotiate seriously. And still more patience is required today, for while there is no longer open conflict between the two countries, neither is there much of the ordinary sort of exchange--of goods, people, or ideas--that is so essential to real peace. That will take much longer.
The importance of risk and the need for patience are surely pertinent lessons for the current U.S. situation in the Middle East. Whatever one's view of the Bush administration's decision to pursue war against Iraq, it is clear that a sea change in U.S. policy toward the Middle East was inevitable. During the Cold War, realpolitik dictated that the United States should accept the status quo in this vitally important strategic region so long as our Soviet adversaries were not strengthened. But with the end of the Cold War, one of the fundamental rationales for turning a blind eye to undemocratic and repressive regimes no longer existed. Then 9/11 occurred, crystallizing the new threat to the United States posed by Islamic radicalism. It also made clear that many of the region's existing regimes were not only threatened by the same radical Islamic forces but had helped give birth to them. …