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Jewish World Review Oct. 19, 2000 / 20 Tishrei, 5761

Michael Kelly

Michael Kelly
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The Talking Cure -- SO, NOW, coming out of the usual precipitous marathon talks, this time in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, President Clinton brings us, again, peace in our time. Well, not exactly; it's actually, at best, truce in our time and more jaw-jaw in our time. Still, as Winston Churchill noted, to jaw-jaw is better than to war-war. Presumably, Churchill would have maintained his belief even as to Clintonian jaw-jaw.

Yet is jaw-jaw necessarily and always better? The question is particularly worth thinking about right now in the context of the choice between Al Gore and George W. Bush. Gore, like his boss, is a jaw-jaw man all the way. Clinton and Gore have talked their way from Port-au-Prince to Belfast, from Moscow to Sarajevo to Belgrade, from the Near East through the Middle to the Far. Gore sees in all this talk a fundamental reason why the presidency should be entrusted to him and not the rookie from Austin. Jaw-jaw is leadership; jaw-jaw is experience.

But, as employed in the Clinton-Gore manner, it is not, really. It is, rather, the serial and perpetual triumph of hope over experience. This president and this vice president have a boundless faith in the talking cure. Where others see intractable conflicts, they see opportunities for win-win through jaw-jaw. Where others see tyrants and terrorists and proven liars, they see reasonable men who can be trusted to adhere to reasonable agreements worked out around a reasonably good-sized table.

Sometimes this is a fine thing. In Northern Ireland, peace is closer thanks in part to the Clinton administration's insistence on talk. But excessive hope in the power of persuasion rests on excessive faith in the perfectibility of man. And that can lead to at least as much harm as good. Faith in jaw-jaw arguably has increased human suffering and the potential of human suffering in a number of places.

One is Kosovo, counted by the administration as a triumph of the intelligent use of limited war. But would war have been necessary had not Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, in her negotiating-table appeasements, given Slobodan Milosevic reason to think he could get away with cleansing Kosovo one village at a time? Another is Rwanda, where swift recourse to a very limited use of armed force almost certainly would have stopped a genocide that claimed at least 700,000 lives--but President Clinton preferred talk, and single-handedly blocked United Nations efforts to use force to avert or halt the slaughter. A third may well be Israel itself. It is clear now that the administration's relentless pressure on Israel to concede more and more to Yasser Arafat, combined with its refusal to accept the obvious truth about Arafat's real intentions, emboldened the Palestinians toward the delusion that they could get it all in the end, if only they hung tough enough and made it painful enough for the Israelis.

The most important instance of the Clinton-Gore philosophy increasing the dangers of life is in the area of weapons proliferation. When Clinton and Gore took office, neither India nor Pakistan had the bomb; now both do. Why? Principally because the administration, intent on making China safe for Coca-Cola, refused to do anything but talk as China exported more and more destabilizing weapons to Pakistan--which made India more and more nervous, and which India finally decided to do something about.

And in this area, we have clear evidence that a President Gore would continue the hope over experience approach. As the New York Times reported on Oct. 13 (a day, fortunately for Gore, dominated by horrific news from the Middle East), the vice president in 1995 signed a secret pact with then-Russian Prime Minister Viktor S. Chernomyrdin. The agreement, which was rooted in the extraordinary authority Clinton gave Gore over Russian policy and which was never presented to Congress, allowed Russia to secretly continue supplying arms--including a diesel submarine and hundreds of tanks and armored personnel carriers--to Iran, on the strength of Chernomyrdin's promise to put an end to such sales by the close of 1999. The secret agreement apparently violated the 1992 Iran-Iraq Arms Nonproliferation Act--an act, incredibly, cosponsored by Gore himself.

Well, sometimes, in the jaw-jaw business, you have to give a little, trust a little. Except that--whoops--it turns out that Gore's trusted friends in Moscow can't be trusted. Jan. 1, 2000, came and went and the Russians never did stop selling arms to Iran.

I think I'll take my chances on the rookie.

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


10/12/00: Doves' Day of Reckoning
10/05/00: Conan the veep
09/28/00: Dumb vs. Dishonest
09/21/00: Flapping furiously
09/14/00: Down AlGore's Memory Hole
08/24/00: AlGore's Flex-O-Joe
08/17/00: The Joyful Clinton Nation
08/09/00: A Calculated Risk
08/03/00: New Hope for Nice Guys
07/27/00: But What About Dad?
07/20/00: U.S. Handiwork In Sierra Leone
07/13/00: President With a Porpoise
07/06/00: The Importance of Being Earnest
06/29/00: A Press Obsession With the Death Penalty
06/21/00: Gore and the Goodies
06/15/00: Network Snooze
06/01/00: Sunshine on My Shoulders
05/24/00: Last Chance for a Hardened Prevaricator
05/17/00: Cuomo's Thought Police
05/10/00: Hammering DeLay
05/04/00: Some Closing Thoughts
04/28/00: Endangering Elian
04/19/00: Imitation Activism
04/12/00: Why they hate Bubba
04/05/00: Census and nonesense
03/29/00: The Stiffs and Their Statuettes
03/15/00: Anarchy in Kosovo
03/08/00: Reform joke
03/01/00:The Pinhead Factor
03/01/00: The Christian Right: Past Its Prime . . .
02/24/00: McCain's Majority
02/16/00: Sharpton's Supplicants
02/09/00: The GOP Pilgrims' Sad Tale
02/02/00: Fodder For the GOP
01/26/00: Million-Dollar Mediocrity
01/19/00: Campaign Reform: Let's Pretend
01/12/00: Never Again? Oh, Never Mind
01/05/00: Turn Off, Tune Out, Drop In
12/22/99: Gore's TV Gambit
12/15/99: Campaigns Do Clarify
12/08/99: Kosovo's Killers
12/01/99: Not Ready for Prime Time?
11/24/99: The Company He Keeps
11/17/99: Republican Illusion
11/10/99: The Know-Nothing Media
11/03/99: Necessary Partisanship
10/27/99: Buchanan's Gift to George W. Bush
10/21/99: Who are the real friends of the poor?
10/14/99: Gore's 'courage'!?
10/08/99: Republican Stunts
09/23/99: Buchanan's folly
09/16/99: Beatty and Buchanan: That's Entertainment!
09/09/99: Puerto Rico Surprise (Cont'd)
09/02/99: Puerto Rico Surprise
08/12/99:The Age of No Class
08/05/99: Assessing Welfare Reform
07/29/99: On the Wrong Side
07/21/99: Mass Sentimentality
07/15/99: Blame Hillary
07/08/99: Guide to the Arts: For Your Summer Reading . . .
06/30/99: A Perfectly Clintonian Doctrine
06/25/99:Smorgasbord by the Sea
06/16/99: A National Calamity
06/09/99: Stumbling Forward
06/02/99: Commencement '90s-Style
05/26/99: Will we ever learn? Clintochio is a lying ...
05/19/99: Comforting Milosevic
05/13/99: Short-Order Strategists
05/06/99: Four Revolting Spectacles

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