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Jewish World Review May 16, 2002 / 5 Sivan, 5762

Michael Kelly

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Arms treaty showcases Bush's solid values | The Bush administration's new nuclear arms treaty with Russia is worth contemplating. It is, in its own way, a thing of beauty -- a small thing that is actually quite large and that is wonderfully confounding to the way things are supposed to work.

It is a mere three pages long. It was arrived at not through years of negotiating by teams of experts, but in a matter of months, chiefly on the strength of personal rapport between George W. Bush and Vladimir V. Putin. It is a victory for Bush -- it cements American nuclear superiority, committing the United States to do with its nuclear arsenal only and precisely what already-decided doctrine called for, and this commitment is reversible. But it is also a victory for Putin, giving him a treaty he needed to show back home as fruits of friendship with America. It arrives only five months after Bush yanked America out of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which the usual experts said would wreck the arms limitation process. It is a farsighted treaty -- from an American president who had seemed to regard arms treaties as abominations and who had specifically rejected one in this matter.

This bit of paper is emblematic of an evolution that is arriving at definition. Piece by piece, in an urgent process of growth that began Sept. 11, Bush is forging a new -- in context, radical -- foreign policy. This is not so much a matter of doctrine as philosophy -- a set of values, a worldview, to use two other terms Bush would reject as overly grand. It is largely stated through actions instead of words, and it is working to rapid and transformative effect.

Bush's philosophy rests on three deceptively simple tenets.

(1) America first. Bush is certainly not an isolationist, and he cannot even credibly be called a unilateralist, but in any consideration of choices he is highly focused on one question: What is good for the United States? The interests and sensibilities of other nations and other peoples are unapologetically of secondary concern. This kind of single-mindedness is harder to sustain, and more rare in a president, than you might think. It lends great clarity to decision-making and great strength to execution. The triumph (and it is, over all, clearly that) of the American campaign in Afghanistan rests entirely on this quality. American security demanded the destruction of al Qaeda and the Taliban, no matter what anyone said, no matter what the risk. That's that; the rest is commentary.

(2) Good is good and bad is bad. The Bush policy is not Kissingerian realpolitik but a more complex realism -- a realism rooted in morality. The great successful American exercises of force, from the Civil War to the World Wars to the Cold War to the Gulf War, have all been grounded in a moral understanding of the world. This understanding has informed America's sense of what was proper in its own actions: The United States could properly act with great lethal force, and in its own interests, but it also had to be on the side of at least an arguable good.

This also informed America's understanding of the actions of other nations. In the final analysis, the Third Reich and the Soviet empire had to be destroyed because they were forces for, as Bush would say, evil. A moral rationale does not guarantee wise foreign policy (see the League of Nations, Vietnam), but unwise policy often rests on the absence of moral consideration: the purposeful embrace of euphemism, evasion and confusion as to right and wrong. Bush understands this.

That understanding is sweeping in its ramifications. The Clinton administration based eight years of negotiations with Yasser Arafat on the pretense that we didn't know that Arafat was, in the end, a man no one could do business with. Bush has taken the opposite stance. In time, perhaps not much time, the Palestinian people will decide that they are better served by a leader that the American president can do business with. And this will be to the good.

(3) If you know where you stand, you can dance. A president who is solid on the ends can afford to be limber on the means. Bush is not afraid to change his mind, to rethink something, to admit to a mistake, even to wholly reverse himself. He knows what he believes in, and he knows his friends and enemies know it too, and he figures he will get there.

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

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