Sunday, November 30, 2008

President Bush's Tilt Towards Israel

Jason Maoz writes for The Jewish Press:

George W. Bush will leave office as one of the most unpopular presidents in history, battered by years of non-stop criticism, scorn and derision - a good deal of it deserved, but much of it politically motivated, hypocritical and unfair.

Whether Bush will, like Harry Truman (who left office in January 1953 with approval numbers lower than Bush's), eventually rise in terms of public esteem is a question that won't begin to be answered for years if not decades.

But one thing that can be said with near certainty is that we shall not see a president as instinctively pro-Israel as Bush for a very long time to come - a president who entered office determined to pursue a policy that unambiguously favored Israel over its enemies.

In their anti-Bush book The Price of Loyalty, author Ron Suskind and his collaborator and protagonist Paul O'Neill, the treasury secretary who left the Bush administration on less than friendly terms, provided a revealing glimpse into Bush's thinking on Israel.

On January 30, 2001, just ten days after his inauguration, Bush met with his senior national security team and, according to O'Neill as transcribed by Suskind, startled those in the room when the discussion turned to Middle East policy.

"We're going to correct the imbalances of the previous administration on the Mideast conflict," Bush announced. "We're going to tilt it back toward Israel. And we're going to be consistent. Clinton overreached, and it all fell apart. That's why we're in trouble."

Bush reminisced about meeting Ariel Sharon (who the following week would easily win election as Israeli prime minister) when they shared a helicopter flight during Bush's visit to Israel in December 1998.

"We flew over the Palestinian camps," Bush said. "Looked real bad down there. I don't see much we can do over there at this point. I think it's time to pull out of that situation."

Colin Powell protested that "such a move might be hasty" and spoke of the "roots" of the violence in the Palestinian areas. "He stressed," wrote Suskind, "that a pullback by the United States would unleash Sharon and the Israeli army. "The consequences of that could be dire," he said, "especially for the Palestinians."


Most political observers in Israel feel it's only a matter of time before Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu gets another turn at the premiership. Nine years after being voted out of office in a landslide defeat at the hands of Ehud Barak, Netanyahu routinely tops voter preference polls - a state of affairs surely owing more to the country's dearth of leadership than to fond memories of his first term in office.

Will Netanyahu, assuming he does return for an encore, receive the same malevolent treatment from the Israeli media that he was subjected to when he led the country in the late 1990s?

A lot has happened since then, of course - Oslo is now widely acknowledged to have been both a sham and a debacle, the second intifada left most Israelis with a considerably more cynical view of Palestinian claims and intentions, Hamas has emerged as the people's choice in Gaza and will probably soon do so on the West Bank as well, and Yasir Arafat went to hell.

At this stage it may be difficult to recall just how despised Netanyahu was by Israeli journalists, so it's instructive to look at a book that came out in mid-2000 by David Horovitz, who at he time was the editor of The Jerusalem Report and has since become editor of The Jerusalem Post - in other words, the very epitome of a mainstream journalist.

A Little Too Close to God: The Thrills and Panic of a Life in Israel is a volume that, had it not made such a speedy trip to bookstore remainders tables and library discard bins, would have no doubt come under the scrutiny of concerned mental health professionals.

The trouble started with Horovitz's wrenching confession that all had not been well for him in the aftermath of Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin's assassination.

"Since the killing, I'll admit, I have come to mythologize Rabin - to use him, or his image, as my shorthand for the Israel I longed and long to live in, his murder as the puncturing of the dream," wrote Horovitz. "It is my obsession. It shows no signs of passing with time."

Oh dear. By his own admission ("shows no signs of passing with time") the man required long-term care. But did not his recognition of the nature of his pathology offer some cause for hope? Perhaps. One can't help but think, however, of the scores of individuals locked away in sanitariums throughout the land who can lucidly recite the details of their illnesses, can calmly admit that, yes, they are off their rockers - and then proceed to formally introduce themselves to visitors as Napoleon Bonaparte or Daffy Duck.

The Jewish Press Relieved By The President Elect


While it's still early - the new president won't take office until January 20 - it appears that many of the concerns voiced on this page and in our community about an Obama administration may have been ill founded.

The appointment of Congressman Rahm Emanuel as White House chief of staff and the expected choice of Senator Hillary Clinton as secretary of state should put to rest fears that Mr. Obama harbors any deep-seated animosity toward the Jewish state.

As has been widely reported, Mr. Emanuel was an IDF civilian volunteer during the first Gulf War, has been an unabashed supporter of Israel while in Congress, and his father fought in the Irgun. The fact that the president-elect chose someone with Mr. Emanuel's background to oversee his White House speaks volumes.

As for Sen. Clinton, she has long erased any reasonable doubt as to where her sympathies are regarding the Middle East. Indeed, she has emerged as one of Israel's strongest Senate supporters of the Jewish state. While we have no doubt that Mr. Obama's apparent selection of Sen. Clinton had a lot to do with domestic politics, it still is instructive that he chose as secretary of state someone with such a strong record on Israel.

Of course, it is Mr. Obama who ultimately will set the course of his administration's foreign policy, and whether or not he will press for American "evenhandedness" or a role as "an honest broker" remains to be seen. But the two choices are encouraging.

In the area of foreign policy generally, candidate Obama seemed to credit the complaints of such rogue states as Iran that the U.S. was the reason for much of the turmoil roiling the international arena. His reference to President Bush as practicing "cowboy diplomacy" seemed to us to undermine any notion of American exceptionalism in the world arena. A secretary of state named Hillary Clinton will assuage many of our doubts. It is also reassuring to hear that Mr. Obama is seriously considering retaining Robert Gates as secretary of defense.

Also during the campaign, we had grave concerns about Mr. Obama's economic philosophy. He talked about spreading the wealth and taxing the rich, and it appeared to many that he was signaling a move toward some form of socialism. And yet his just-announced economic team headed by Timothy Geithner and Lawrence Summers signals that Mr. Obama is intent on seriously dealing with the rapidly deteriorating economic crisis rather than engaging in some frolic in economic experimentation.