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Jewish World Review April 18, 2002 / 7 Iyar, 5762

Michael Kelly

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Making sense of Bush's Mideast actions | On April 4, George Bush gave a lecture to the Middle East in which he (already famously) said that he expected results. Given the results to date, it is tempting to look upon the president's demand as ill conceived and his nascent initiative as a failure. But the results Bush really expected were not exactly those he called for.

In his first, very modest, aim, Bush merely wanted to buy some time and some space -- to give Israel and the Palestinians the chance to step back from the brink, at least for a while. The administration wants whatever veneer of a peace it can get in Israel, at least for a few months, so it can better pursue war in Iraq.

Second, and much more far-reaching, Bush wants to state for the record, in a once-and-for-all fashion, exactly how the United States sees the situation, in terms discrete and general. The Palestinians have a legitimate grievance that needs to be addressed, as indeed Israel has accepted. But suicide bombers (homicide bombers, says the White House) are murderers, not martyrs. And regimes such as Yasser Arafat's that use mass murder as a tool of statecraft are complicit in murder; and so are regimes that encourage and celebrate such use of murder -- as do almost all of the Arab and Islamic states. Henceforth, the United States will not accept or excuse any of this, and the president "expects" Arafat, the Palestinians and the Arab states to govern themselves accordingly.

What the president actually expected from the Palestinians and the Arab regimes is pretty much what he got. Arafat, having lost utterly and disastrously his insane gamble to abandon the peace process in hopes of greater gains through war; having lost his government, his armed forces, his territory, his freedom of movement and nearly his life; surrounded, defeated and reduced to tolerating the company of European peaceniks for self-protection -- well, at this point, Chairman Arafat is willing to say, for the first time in Arabic, that blowing up old ladies and children is not good.

And that is about as far as it goes. Arafat has never said a word to his fighters to encourage them to end their suicidal battle. In Jenin, he got what he wanted -- a glorious new chapter in Palestinian martyrdom. Arafat's people have shown no inclination to follow the Bush administration's repeated suggestions that they would be better represented at the negotiating table by someone else. The suicide bombings have not stopped. The Arab regimes have sneered at Bush's insistence that they cease encouraging Palestinians in their campaign of terror.

None of this was unanticipated in the White House. (This is not to say that everything is going according to foresight. Among other things, the administration did not gauge the determination of the Israelis to persist on the battlefield until their military aims were met.) On the day that Bush gave his speech, the smart betting in the White House was that (1) Arafat would not suddenly develop honesty and rationality; (2) the Palestinians would probably not throw the old recidivist killer overboard in favor of someone the Israelis could do business with; (3) far from ending the bombings, the new American initiative would almost certainly provoke fresh outrages; (4) the Arab regimes would, again, dis us.

The point of Bush's speech was not to deny these realities but to expose them. This government is doing something large and important that the preceding two administrations failed to do: It is defining the new American position in the new world. This world's essential fact is the revivification of the 19th-century cultural and territorial conflicts previously frozen in the hundred years' war of giants between democracy and totalitarianism. On a running basis, but as a matter of fundamental philosophy, the Bush White House is demonstrating an understanding of this truth, and an understanding of the corollary truth that America must make clear its position in this world.

The position is this: The United States is for democracy and order, not necessarily always in that order. It is against threats to this of any sort. It is against all forms of fascism, including Islamic. It is against those who would seek to destroy democratic nations or to drive the United States from its position in the world as the paramount protector of democracy. It regards those who are friendly to these aims as friends and those who are inimical to them as enemies.

At some point in the next year or so, the United States will go to war against Iraq. It will do so with friends, or alone. It will do so with a clear and cold-eyed knowledge of where it stands and who stands with it, and that understanding will have begun with Bush's speech of April 4 and with his "failed" expectations.

Oh -- and the United States will win.

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Michael Kelly is the editor of National Journal. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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