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Bush in the Middle: East, America, of-the-road
By John G. Lankford
As with communism and its pseudonym cousins, it takes about a day and a half and one Eureka! to crack the code of diplomacy. Sooner or later one also realizes that practical politics is simply domestic diplomacy, or internal statecraft.
With communism, the answer is, turn everything upside down. Pretend we comprise one organism with many cells rather than many organisms with many cells. Darwin and visible evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, assume that the fate of each is the fate of all and vice-versa. Cultivate a smug, condescending air and you've got it.
With diplomacy and practical politics, the answer is that whatever is said in public is neither what is happening nor what counts. Public statements are not descriptive of events or policies, and they are never made but for effect. Debating the content of diplomats' and politicians' public pronouncements is akin to expostulating over the doings of the shadows on Plato's cave wall. The productive question is not, "Does that statement reflect good or bad policy," but, rather, "Why did s/he say that particular thing so everyone could hear it?"
Acknowledging those simple verities helps reveal the rationale behind President George W. Bush's equivocating public gestures in domestic policy and foreign affairs.
Domestically, it has been noted that Bush's strategy is to give his communalistic, er, egalitarian, that is, progressive opponents some of whatever they might be able to raise a significant voting constituency to get. A sort of Hindic ahimsa, this avoids confrontation and, more to the point, the energizing of any such constituency.
During Bill Clinton's administration, while his leftist core constituency fumed, Republicans regularly howled that their presidential nemesis was stealing, pre-empting and burying their issues. Now Bush is returning the compliment, Democrats are howling and libertarians and conservatives are fuming.
For example, just recently, Bush announced he favored an extension of a ban on certain so-called "assault' rifles and related accessories. This pacified leftists who believe all guns should eventually be banned. It angered the National Rifle Association and other defenders of Second Amendment rights. The extension never had a chance in Congress anyway. Therefore Bush dosed one Democratic interest group with opiate at no cost, beyond hurt feelings, to his own pro-Second-Amendment constituency. As wailing conservatives and libertarians show, other examples abound.
The objective was the same for both presidents: to pacify opposing constituencies, gradually weaken the other party and eventually consign it to a permanent minority status -- then govern on principle. The essential principles of the two sides, one-being versus many-beings, are diametrically and irreconcilably opposed. One will prevail and the other have to submit or depart.
The only difference is that if those of the provident conservative many-being persuasion depart, or even diminish their efforts in place, the improvident, dependent-minded one-being advocates will perish: thermodynamics prohibits not only prosperity but even subsistence of predators and parasites preying only on one another.
The party with the presidency has a vast advantage in this contest. Only the fact that, after beggaring the Republicans of many of their cherished issues, Bill Clinton furnished them an eminently adequate substitute, himself, thus dooming hapless Al Gore's candidacy, prevented what Winston Churchill would have called a triumph and tragedy wrought by the Democrats. And now Bush, taking the Middle of the Road as necessary to gain a substantial electoral majority in Middle America in hopes of achieving a filibuster-proof Senate while retaining a house majority along with his own re-election, is taking his turn on the Republicans' behalf.
Middle of the Roadmap
After barely a tut-tut at lethal assaults committed by terrorists associated with Palestinians, Bush apalled many realistic onlookers by scolding Israel's retaliatory counterstrikes. The terrorists' provocations came in a blatant attempt to prevent implementation of Bush's Roadmap to Peace in that region, came even as Israel began accomplishing its compliance by dismantling unauthorized Zionist settlements in territory slated to be traded to Palestinians for promised nonaggression and non-harboring of proxy aggressors.
Many a commentator exploded over this. Announce a Bush doctrine decreeing that all nations are either for or against terrorism, then lambaste Israel for acting against it? Act as though Israel must suffer strikes but not strike back? This in a land where the man who forbears vengeance is judged a vulnerable coward and overrun, though the man who strikes back is denounced as aggressor by the aggressor and struck again with a vindictive squeal?
Well, yes, as a matter of fact, and there lies the Middle Way of the Bush Middle Roadmap for the Middle East, It would be horrid but for that one principle: one must not listen to what a statesman says for the public to hear, but ask why he said it.
First, wail not for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who ordered the retaliatory strikes and received Bush's public woodshedding. Both Sharon and Palestinian (nominal) Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, immediately after shaking hands in front of Bush over the Roadmap to Peace for the cameras recently, reprised a maneuver of long standing.
Both quietly elicited uproars from the bellicose sectors of their respective constituencies -- Abbas' in the form of yelps from the ever-reliable Yassir Arafat plus the implacable terror group Hamas et ilk and Sharon from his own hawkish political party. This is how leaders of both sides have gotten out of commitments made in front of exasperated United States presidents without seeming blameworthy. On both sides, it is a highly public demonstration, remember? The contrived "my people demand" alibi is hoary old stuff, tragically well-practiced.
And so Hamas et ilk killed Israeli soldiers, Abbas reneged on his freshly-made promise to suppress such berserkers, and Sharon retaliated. And Bush erupted, in public. What, then, is his reasoning?
The Roadmap for Peace boldly stuffs down Palestinian throats what they do not want, a state of their own they say they want at the price of a world-approved compromise, an ineradicable (because duly purchased, in land, by Israel) proclamation of Israel's correpsonding right to exist, as a Jewish state, in peace.
Most Arab and Islamic states will endorse that. They are tired and terrified of the sore point the Palestinian issue has represented and its resonance within their own countries. Other Arab and Islamic staes can and will be pressured into at least stating they endorse the resolution. Even the European Union and the United Nations would find it diplomatically untenable to oppose the deal.
That done, Bush can resume his demand that any and all terrorist groups maintaining support for Palestinian and other terrorist activities be suppressed, with a credible threat of ordering U.S. forces into recalcitrant nations to help, if necessary. This isolates the terror groups under U.S. supervision, and they may be expected to wither away.
Furthermore, once Palestinian Palestine is a state, it can be condemned by the United Nations, sanctioned by the United Nations, delivered ultimata by offended powers, have war declared against it, and, if necessary, be invaded and pacified forevermore, all according to well-established rules of the diplomatic game. Nations feel uncomfortable, or can maintain pretenses of doing so, as long as the Palestinians are a maelstrom of surly malcontents. Once they are a state, they will have to be coherent and responsible -- or else.
At the present stage, there is nothing Palestinians, Abbas, Arafat, Hamas, or ilk can do to prevent granting of what they profess to wish for, their own state, at a price all the world thinks reasonable. Israeli security. Irrespective of attacks on Israel, Israel can unilaterally withdraw its settlements, meet its obligations under the Roadmap, and ask the rest of the world, "Nu?"
Only renunciation of the Roadmap agreement by Israel, or defensible denunciation of it by the Palestinians, can prevent completion of its plotted course -- and commencement of its consequences. The infliction of their own state on the Palestinians being the Middle Course for the Middle East the world cannot reject, Bush demands it. And that is why, fairly or not, he shrugs at Palestinian attempts to sabotage his plan but bristles when Israel reciprocates.
Israeli and their advocates looking for some modicum of fairness, justice, and even-handedness from the United States can and, under Bush's Middle Way for the Middle East must, console themselves with this: More than a half-century ago, the United States unconditionally pledged to guarantee the existence of Israel. It cannot renege on that pledge.
All moral and historical claims and counterclaims of both sides notwithstanding, the United States of America has declared unconditionally that the state of Israel shall exist, and the United States of America is overwhelmingly capable of making it so. The corresponding guarantee to the Palestinian state, implicit in the Roadmap to Peace, is not unconditional, but contingent on nonaggression against Israel, and implicit, not express, as well.
If Israel will take some hits now, deprive the Palestinians of any pretext on which to denounce the Roadmap plan and persevere to its completion, it will have that edge as long as there is a United States of America. And Palestinians, their own state inflicted upon them, will be forced to take yes for an answer -- or else.
John G. Lankford is a one-time reporter, retired lawyer and resident of Ambergris Caye, Belize. He has contributed to SierraTimes.com, AldenChronicles.com, Enter Stage Right, RadicalPositivism.org and other online publications.
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