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