I will not, I repeat will not, bring peace to the Middle East. I will not, repeat, will not, win the Nobel Peace Prize. These should be required first principles for any Presidential candidate seeking public support. And when he became president, George Bush seemed to be indeed what David Frum has called "the right man." He was modest, down to earth despite his silver spoon and elite education. He was tenacious, determined to achieve the goals he set for himself, but careful in the goals he selected. When he took office, the new President clearly had resolved to avoid becoming embroiled, a la Clinton, in endless negotiations to "end the Arab-Israel conflict."
But reluctant though we are to face this, for we have greatly admired George W., midway in his term, our formerly unassuming President has been seized by what can only be called a spasm of grandiosity. Apparently emboldened by two successful wars in rapid succession, he has embarked on a mission to transform the Middle East. In the case of Iraq, not content with the limited target of eliminating Saddam Hussein's regime, the President has conjured up the vision of a transfigured, liberal, democratic Iraq which will serve as a transforming model to the entire region. In fact, left to determine their own future, the people of Iraq would surely follow the example of Yugoslavia once Tito's iron hand was removed. The Kurds have fought for many decades for independence. Further south, Shi'ites do not want to be ruled by Sunnites, and Sunnites, accustomed to hegemony, reject the idea of Shi'ite majority rule. Fearing the repercussions of Iraq's breakup, the United States is determined this will not happen. But while the outcome of Iraq's internal struggles is hard to predict, it should already be apparent that massive problems lie ahead and Iraq will not be serving as a beacon to the region any time soon.
If the President's vision of Iraq-as-liberal-democracy is unlikely to be fulfilled, his current commitment to solving the Arab-Israel conflict is even more unsettling. President Bush announced his two-state "vision" in his address to the UN on June 24, 2002. The speech was widely praised at the time, even by Israel's staunchest friends, and Americans for a Safe Israel was almost alone in pointing up its disastrous potential. Yet the peril should have been clear. Pursuing a mirage, shimmering but unattainable because it has no substance -- the Arabs want to eliminate Israel, not make peace with it -- can only lead to bitter disappointment.
Yes, it is understandable why the speech provoked a positive reaction. Unlike his predecessor in the White House, President Bush started off with demands on the Palestinian Arabs. Yasser Arafat would have to go. "Peace requires a new and different Palestinian leadership...not compromised by terror." The Palestinian Arabs would have "to build a practicing democracy, based on tolerance and liberty." "And when the Palestinian people have new leaders, new institutions and new security arrangements with their neighbors, the United States of America will support the creation of a Palestinian state whose borders and certain aspects of its sovereignty will be provisional until resolved as part of a final settlement in the Middle East." The speech put the onus on the Palestinian Arabs to make dramatic changes before anything would be asked of Israel. But this is where there was already a strong whiff of Presidential hubris. President Bush actually seemed to believe his saying so would make it so. I, George W. Bush, do herewith wave the magic wand, abracadabra, and presto, I have set in motion a tolerant, liberty-loving leadership and population.
Midway in his term, our formerly unassuming President has been seized by what can only be called a spasm of grandiosity.
In fact, the premise of the speech was preposterous. Puzzled supporters of Israel have tried to explain how President Bush could have shifted ground within a year to stand behind a "road map" embodying none of the principles of the speech, incorporating instead an EU/UN prescription for eliminating Israel. It's the influence of Karl Rove, say some, trying to reelect Bush through buying Arab-American support. It's the triumph of the State Department, say some, same old State Department. It's Tony Blair, say some, payback time for his support on Iraq. It's the influence of America's so-called Middle East allies, say some, with Mubarak and the two Abdullahs (Jordan's and Saudi Arabia's) all singing the same siren song -- solve the Arab-Israel conflict and you eliminate the "root cause" of Middle East instability and anti-Americanism.
All of these have doubtless had an impact on the President's thinking. But the fundamental reason the speech turned into the road map was that it soon became apparent the administration had two choices: forget the two state "vision" or forget the idea of changing Palestinian goals and governance. It should not have come as any great surprise that the president chose the latter.
While it might be objected that hindsight is 20/20, our vision was 20/20 when Bush made the speech. Immediately following it, in the July-August 2002 Outpost, under the heading "And When the Policy Fails?" this writer asked: "So what happens when the kind of benign government Bush hopes to see replacing Arafat's regime fails
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July-August 2003 - 3 - Outpost