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Jewish World Review Feb. 20, 2001 / 27 Shevat, 5761

Michael Ledeen

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Unity Schmoonity: Sharon is defying the will of the people -- SO Ariel Sharon, the Lion of Judah, Israel's own George Patton, the toughest guy in the Middle East, the mention of whose name makes strong men tremble, has offered the top two jobs in his government-to-be to the guys who vie with Neville Chamberlain for Top Appeasers of Modern Times: Ehud Barak and Shimon Peres. After his lopsided victory, Sharon turns to the humiliated leaders of the discredited opposition and offers them glory and power.

Wrong. Entirely wrong.

First of all, it's an arrogant insult to the electorate. When you win a landslide, you should respect the voice of the people and do what they clearly want you to: Govern in accordance with your announced principles. Nobody believes that Barak and Peres share Sharon's view of the world, so Sharon is defying the will of the people. If they had wanted Barak and Peres, they'd have voted Labor, not Likud.

Second, it's bad politics. As I argued after our own elections, the whole theory of "unity governments" is an intellectual conceit, a misguided concoction dreamed up by people who have never governed. Israelis should know this better than most, because they've experimented with such things — Peres and Shamir made a deal some years ago that led to a rotating government, with first one, then the other serving as prime minister — and it was a fiasco.

Third, it betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of leadership. Sharon seems to think that he'll be stronger, and the country will be more united, if he has his defeated opponents alongside him. I can't imagine what line of reasoning led him to this conclusion. He just won the highest percentage of the popular vote — 62 percent — of any candidate for top office in any democratic country in the last hundred years. Can you spell "mandate"? He could hardly be any stronger today, and his future political power will depend entirely on the success or failure of his policies, not on the members of his Cabinet.

Bringing in Peres and Barak actually weakens him, because it encourages his enemies to think that he's just another Israeli pol, a wheeler-dealer, rather than the decisive and courageous leader Israelis so desperately need and want. Do you think that the presence of the two great appeasers will make Arafat more likely to come to reasonable terms? Not bloody likely. Arafat, and his deep-pockets sponsor, Saddam Hussein, believe that Israel has lost its will, is not prepared to fight, and is ready at long last to be driven from the Middle East. Sharon's decision to play footsy with the Labor Party is martial music in their ears.

Above all, it suggests that Sharon is not going to tell the truth to the Israeli people: that they have been at war for several years, and that they do not have a choice between war and peace. Their only choice is between winning and losing the war. Neither Barak nor Peres believes that, and neither is likely to support a government that says that, and acts accordingly. So Sharon has boxed himself in: if he vigorously wages war, he'll be attacked by his own foreign and defense ministers, while if he continues their ridiculous policies he'll be excoriated by the Israeli public.

Great leaders lead, knowing that if they win they will be honored, and that they will be despised if they lose. There really isn't much more to it than that. Military leaders should understand this better than most, because all their training and all their experience in battle underline it. But General Ariel Sharon seems not to understand it, and his first few days as prime minister-designate of Israel bode ill indeed for the outcome of the ongoing Middle East war.

JWR contributor Michael Ledeen is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of Tocqueville on American Character . Comment by clicking here.


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© 2001, Michael Ledeen