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Jewish World Review March 21, 2002 / 8 Nisan, 5762

Robert W. Tracinski

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Who is George Bush? | Will the real George Bush please stand up?

Last weekend, we learned that President Bush is contemplating a new "nuclear posture" for America that would include threatening the use of tactical nuclear weapons against terrorist dictatorships. Then, during the middle of the week, we learned that this very same president had sponsored a U.N. Security Council resolution demanding the creation of a Palestinian state -- a terrorist dictatorship.

This is just one among many contradictions in this president's policies and outlook.

Under the orders of their commander in chief, U.S. troops have spent the past few weeks killing al-Qaeda by the hundreds in Afghanistan, on the premise that every dead "al-Qaeda element," in the appropriately de-humanizing terminology of our soldiers, will help ensure America's safety. Then Bush angrily withdrew his support for Israel because they rounded up terrorists in Palestinian refugee camps.

Bush vowed once again that we will take action to achieve "regime change" in Iraq -- i.e., to overthrow Saddam Hussein and his henchmen. In doing so, he made it clear that America is willing to go it alone, defying the "multilateral" European policy of appeasement. Yet he is sacrificing Israel -- the one nation in the Middle East that supports us -- in an attempt to curry favor with our Arab "allies," even while Vice President Cheney's trip to the Middle East is demonstrating that we have no Arab allies.

President Bush has stated what some call the Bush Doctrine, the policy of undermining and destroying any government that sponsors or harbors terrorists. Yet he allowed Syria onto the U.N. Security Council, paid lip service to "dialogue" with North Korea, and continues to coddle Yasser Arafat.

What explains these contradictions?

At his best, Bush seems to have a basic, emotional-level pro-American outlook, a belief that this country is good and deserves to be defended. Part of this attitude is an element of self-assertiveness, the conviction that we should stand up for ourselves when attacked and have the moral confidence to brand our enemies as "evil." This is a stark contrast to our previous president, who held that this country is fundamentally marred by evil and who apologized for our alleged sins at every available opportunity.

Bush also has a kind of basic honesty -- another contrast to his predecessor. The one conviction that remains immutable in all of Bush's foreign policy statements is the idea that we must not allow terrorist governments to develop weapons of mass destruction. Bush seems to grasp this, not just as a slogan, but as a real fact that cannot be negotiated away or swept under a diplomatic carpet.

But notice that this one solid conviction is not a broad moral principle, nor even a consistent policy doctrine. It is a concrete threat, answered by a gut-level, "sense of life" reaction. Where Bush goes weak is when he encounters any threat to the United States that is sufficiently complex or long-range. Take Israel. What principle would we establish by letting Yasser Arafat win his terrorist war? And what can we expect, in the long term, if we let Arafat turn Palestine into a giant terrorist training camp? But such questions only arise for someone who habitually thinks about principles and the long term.

Bush is repeating the disastrous errors of his father, who boldly led us through a war for the narrowly concrete goal of saving Kuwait from Saddam Hussein -- but who never stated the principle that America has a right to act unilaterally to defend its interests. As a result, he bowed to the wishes of his Arab coalition and left Hussein in power. In this case, his son seems determined to win the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, only to lose it by relocating the centers of terrorism to Gaza and the West Bank.

What is missing from Bush's policy is the guidance of long-range, abstract principles. After all, in the Republican primary, Bush was selected as a pragmatist, as someone who could compromise because he was unencumbered by "ideology" -- the contemporary epithet for principles. Bush himself once said, in a self-deprecating remark on his speech-making abilities, "My mouth is where words go to die." The ominous implication is that his brain is where abstractions go to die.

But to achieve lasting success in the War on Terrorism, America needs principled leadership. It needs a president who can see beyond immediate concretes and think in terms of the moral precedents he sets and their long-term consequences. From this perspective, Bush's Israel policy is a disastrous failure.

Comment on JWR contributor Robert W. Tracinski's column by clicking here.

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02/14/02: Multilateralism's one-way street
02/05/02: The Powell Problem
01/29/02: A profligate and irresponsible distortion of congressional priorities
01/22/02: Liberal conspiracy theories
01/15/02: Fading shock and fading resolve
01/08/02: Argentina's intellectual collapse
12/31/02: The real person of the year
12/26/01: With friends like us ...
12/19/01: Ending the "peace process war"
12/11/01: The ruthless grip of logic
12/04/01: War powers without war
11/27/01: An Afghanistan Thanksgiving
11/20/01: The end of the beginning
11/06/01: The phony war
10/30/01: A war against Islam
10/23/01: The economics of war
10/16/01: A culture of death
10/11/01: An empire of ideals
10/01/01: Why they hate us
09/24/01: The lessons of war
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09/12/01: It is worse than Pearl Harbor
09/11/01: Out of the fire and back into the frying pan
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08/28/01: Waging war on profits and lives
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08/08/01: The death toll of environmentalism
07/31/01: Where does America stand?
07/25/01: Barbarians at the G8
07/17/01: The carrot and the carrot
07/11/01: The real Brave New World
07/03/01: The child-manipulators
06/19/01: The scientist trap
06/11/01: The National Academy of Dubious Science