W.’s war with himself
by Jonathan Rosenblum
April 12, 2002
George W. Bush’s instincts arguably constitute the best hope for the future of Western civilization. He has defined with remarkable clarity the war on terrorism and the "axis of evil" stretching from North Korea through Iran to Iraq. That clarity is a welcome antidote to the cynicism masked as sophistication that passes for European foreign policy, and which would do nothing about Saddam Hussein until he is in a position to hold the world hostage.
Bush has intuitively grasped the horror of Israel’s situation, and the parallels between the terrorism confronting Israel and that experienced by the United States last September 11. As he put it, in his April 4 speech on the Middle East, "No nation can negotiate with terrorists. For there is no way to make peace with those whose only goal is death."
Since the Seder night massacre, which left 27 Jews dead and more than a hundred others wounded, Bush has repeatedly reaffirmed Israel’s right to defend herself against the scourge of terrorism.
More importantly, he acknowledged in his April 4 speech that the Chairman of the Palestinian Authority – whom he deigned to refer to by name only once in his speech - "has not consistently opposed or confronted terrorists" and has not fulfilled his commitments at Oslo and elsewhere to "renounce terror as an instrument of his cause and to control it." Nor did he spare the Palestinian Authority from stark criticism for having devoted itself to feeding its people’s resentments rather than attending to their needs for health and education. (That is a trait, as Natan Sharansky has repeatedly pointed out, characteristic of non-democratic governments, in general, and of the autocracies of the Middle East, in particular.)
Two days later, Bush said straight out what American diplomats have been saying in private for years: Arafat is an incorrigible liar, whose word is meaningless. He has not lost my trust, said the President, because "he never earned my trust."
In his April 4 speech, the President also hinted to the crux of the Arab-Israeli conflict, when he called the Saudi "peace initiative" hopeful due to its acknowledgment of "Israel’s right to exist." By calling that a hopeful sign, Bush implicitly recognized that no Arab government or the PA has yet done so.
YET after having defined Israel’s situation so clearly, the President immediately veered off into not one but two non sequiturs: The first runs something like this: (1) Israel is confronted with terror on an unprecedented scale, against which it has a right and duty to defend itself; (2) Therefore Israel should begin withdrawing (later amended to "immediately withdraw") from Palestinian territory, only a week into a complex military operation designed to wipe out an ingrained terrorist infrastructure. The second is: (1) The Palestinian leadership has never recognized Israel’s right to exist and has repeatedly shown itself incapable of any political compromise or of living up to its commitments; (2) Therefore Israel should immediately resume a political process consisting of concrete Israeli concessions in return for the same worthless promises from the Palestinians.
The George W. Bush who has become the beacon of hope to freedom lovers around the world suddenly transmuted before our eyes into the Manchurian candidate, with a computer chip implanted in his brain by the fancy pants of the State Department. It is not hard to guess the nature of the messages being transmitted by the chip.
First message: The perception of American support for Israel is undermining the coalition against Iraq. (Fact: There is no such coalition. The Arabs made clear to Vice-President Cheney that no Arab government will publicly support, or otherwise aid, any attack on Iraq. With the possible exception of token British support, there will be zero European participation in any military operation. Fortunately, the United States has the power to remove Saddam Hussein without any assistance from Europe of Arab "allies" and without the constraints that such a coalition would inevitably pose.)
Second message: The Arab street will rise up in defense of the Palestinians, destabilizing our Arab "allies" and endangering our oil supplies. (Fact: Prior to the American assault on the Taliban, we heard the same warnings of Moslems rioting against America all over the world. It never happened for one simple reason: the only thing the Moslem street respects is strength, and that’s what they saw in Afghanistan.)
Third message: Lack of American involvement in the Arab-Israeli conflict is being blamed for the violence. (Fact: That violence began prior to Bush taking office, and in the immediate wake of the most intense American involvement ever in the so-called "peace process." A far stronger case can be made that American diplomatic involvement precipitates violence than that it is the cure.)
The President might at least have looked embarrassed by his demand for an immediate Israeli withdrawal. Just a few weeks ago, in anticipation of Gen. Anthony Zinni’s visit to the region, Prime Minister Sharon gave up on his longstanding demand for seven days of quiet before resuming negotiations with the Palestinian Authority and gave permission to Arafat to travel freely within the Palestinian Authority. In addition, Israeli troops were withdrawn from Palestinian cities. The result was the worst terrorist carnage in Israel’s history: a spate of suicide bombings and attempted bombings, sometimes at the rate of two or three a day, that left over 100 Jews dead and hundreds of other lives shattered forever.
In the month of March alone, the number of Israeli civilians lost to terrorism was the equivalent, on a proportional basis, of two World Trade Centers. In short, giving Arafat and the Palestinians one more chance inevitably costs Jewish lives. Yet here was the President calling again for "one more chance."
Hypocrisy too should have brought a blush to the President’s face. The United States has been engaged in military actions in Afghanistan for seven months; Israel’s latest attempt to uproot the terrorist infrastructure was less than a week old at the time of Bush’s call for Israel to withdraw. Israeli generals believe that two months will be required to complete the current mission. (Prime Minister Sharon should have provided a timetable at the outset of the operation precisely to prevent the President from claiming that enough time had elapsed and thereby appearing to substitute his military judgment for Israeli military experts.)
Israel, it is true, could wipe out the immediate terrorist threat much more quickly. All it would have to do is to loose its vast air power and millions of Palestinians would start fleeing across the Jordan. But that is precisely what Israel has refused to do, in stark contrast to the United States in Afghanistan. To keep American casualties to a minimum, the United States has relied almost entirely on bombing and surrogates on the ground. Thousands of civilian casualties resulted. By contrast, Israel is relying almost exclusively on tanks and ground troops, at great risk to its own servicemen, to ensure as few Palestinian civilian casualties as possible from its anti-terrorist campaign.
Israel is today fighting a war for survival, not on some far away battlefield, but in its very midst. Recognition of that fact is nearly universal among Israel’s Jews. Despite the typical Israeli’s need for love and support from the world, 85% of the Jewish population supports the military action to uproot the terrorist infrastructure, even in the face of almost unanimous condemnation by the rest of the world.
The greatest achievement of the current campaign may not lie in the seizure of vast arms stores, the destruction of laboratories for the production of suicide bombers belts and Kassem missiles, or the capture of hundreds of wanted terrorists, but in a more intangible realm altogether.
Among the Palestinians, there was a growing sense that Israel had been brought to her knees and victory was at hand. For two years, they have cited the Israeli flight from Lebanon as the model for their own impending victory. After reading Israeli newspapers devoting entire weekend sections to the question, "Does Israel have a future?" and the extensive coverage of the phenomenon of Israeli reservists refusing to serve in the territories, the Palestinians could be forgiven for believing that Israelis were all about to get up and run away. The near 100% turnout of reservists for combat in response to the latest call up and the resolve of the Jewish population must therefore have come as a shock.
As a history buff, President Bush should have shown a greater appreciation of the desire of the Jewish people not to feel themselves helpless ducks in a shooting gallery again and their reticence to depend on the kindness of strangers for their survival.
Related Topics: Peace Process
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