Washington. -- It's back. And the Clinton administration has got it: the liberal illusion that by treating an adversary as a friend we can make him a friend. Treating an adversary as a partner so that we can make him a partner characterized much of the liberal approach to foreign policy during the Cold War. Recently two egregious examples have occurred in the Clinton team's policies toward North Korea and Algeria.
Kim Il Sung is the last man whose promises and commitments to peace should be taken seriously. Jimmy Carter is the last man whose judgment can be trusted about the intentions of revolutionary leaders. The record is clear in both cases.
Yet after this odd couple took their peace walk last month, the Clinton administration was ready to trade the time Kim Il Sung needs to reprocess plutonium (and complete half a dozen or so nuclear bombs) for the North Koreans' promise of a freeze in reprocessing -- as long as high-level negotiations are in progress. This deal reflects a level of trust in Kim Il Sung's commitments that are wholly unwarranted by his long record of deception and violence.
But the worst idea of a bad year in foreign policy is the Clinton administration's notion that the United States should abandon its "alarmist posture" on Islamic fundamentalist movements and urge the beleaguered governments of Egypt and Algeria to make room in their governments for the "moderates" of the Islamic movement. Not since Andrew Young and the Carter administration mistook the Ayatollah Khomeini for "some kind of saint" has a Western government made so serious a mistake about the violent, anti-modern, anti-Western, anti-woman totalitarians who use the Muslim religion as an excuse to make war and claim control of their societies.
Yet that cockeyed notion -- that revolutionary Islamic political movements may contain unrecognized democratic potential -- is already shaping U.S. policies toward Algeria and may be applied elsewhere.
The first reports of a reconsideration of U.S. policy toward revolutionary Islam that floated in Washington concerned not Algeria, but Egypt. I first heard early last spring that Morton Halperin, now of the National Security Council, had used a luncheon at the U.S. Institute for Peace to suggest that the United States consider encouraging the Egyptian government to adopt more tolerant, less repressive policies in its ongoing struggle with the violent, "popular" Islamic movement. The democratic potential of revolutionary Islam, it was said he said, might be greater than Americans perceived.
More recently U.S. officials have focused their attention on Algeria, where organized Islamic rebels continue their violent efforts to turn that country into an Islamic republic by overthrowing its military-based, but pro-Western government and terrorizing the population. That beleaguered, debt-ridden government has worked hard to control violence and to renegotiate its debt.
In Paris last week the Algerian prime minister, Mokdad Sifi, expressed his country's gratitude to the European Union for its active support in dealing with the International Monetary Fund and Club of Paris. He did not mention the United States, doubtless because the Clinton administration has been less helpful.
The U.S. assistant secretary of state for the Near East, Robert Pelletreau, has repeatedly called for "dialogue" with the so-far invisible "moderates" of the Islamic movement and has predicted that "repressive" policies will not work.
Mokdad Sifi responded from Paris that the government of Algeria welcomed "all those who condemned violence and respect the laws" and was eager to find the "moderates" it was recommended they deal with. He wished aloud these "moderates" would make themselves known. "The doors of dialogue are wide open," he insisted. Meanwhile, the French government has deplored U.S. reticence with regard to Islamic violence.
I have found it nearly incredible that the Carter team which runs the Clinton administration's foreign policy has learned so little about the violence, hostility and fanaticism of the Islamic revolution from hard experience in Iran, Sudan, the murder of Anwar Sadat, the hostage taking in Lebanon, the bombing of the World Trade Center.
The attack of Islamic extremists on organized society in Algeria is not the manifestation of popular revolution or a "clash of civilizations." It does not pit Islam against the West. It pits violence, fanatics and totalitarians against their own Muslim societies.
If the Clinton team can think of no better advice to offer Algeria than that which -- as Carter officials -- they gave to Iran and Nicaragua, they should leave the problems to governments and persons less prone to confusing moderates with fanatics, revolutionaries with idealists, and wishes with reality.
Jeane Kirkpatrick is a fellow of the American Enterprise Institute