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Was He Wrong About Everything?
Has there ever been a lamer duck than George W. Bush? How he went from winning a clear majority of the 2004 popular vote to his current dismal showing is a topic that will fascinate historians in the future.
The answers will assuredly revolve around Hurricane Katrina, the war in Iraq, and the financial meltdown that has panicked Wall Street and made a Democratic victory this November all but certain. Yet, even as Bush gets swept into the proverbial dustbin of history, it would be a mistake to succumb to the temptation of viewing everything he did as wrong.
But this is exactly the angle that has been adopted by the Democrats as they appear to be coasting to victory.
In the partisan debate for the Jewish vote, the Democrats argue that the Bush administration has been harmful to the Jewish state. This is despite the fact that most Jewish voters understood the administration to be quite friendly to Israel.
Bad For Israel?
Part of this has to do with the stale debate about the decision to go to war in Iraq. There's no question that the demise of Saddam Hussein and the weakening of Iraq helped Iran. Tehran's nuclear potential now poses the No. 1 threat to both Israel and the region in general.
That's a fair point, though it must be said almost no one in the pro-Israel community on either side of the aisle was unhappy about the fall of Saddam, given his history of attacks on Israel and support for terrorism. Iran's growing strength is frightening, and the decision to invade Iraq must be considered to have contributed to it.
Yet, this line of reasoning fails to take into account that if Saddam had been allowed to stay in power, his menacing of the region would have continued and Iran's nuclear program would still have grown to the existential threat that it is today.
Even more significant to the Democrats' strategy to woo Jewish voters is the charge put forth during the current campaign that Bush's decision to back away from Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy should also be considered a mistake.
They argue that Bush's refusal to continue Bill Clinton's hands-on engagement with the faltering peace talks led to years of violence and the current impasse. This point, heralded by no less a personage than Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden, is not only an indictment of Bush's place in history, but a chilling prescription for foreign policy in the next four years.
As such, it could not be more wrong.
Whatever else one may say about George W. Bush's time in the White House, his negative view of Bill Clinton's mad dash for a Nobel Peace Prize was spot- on. Clinton's feckless advocacy for the Oslo process, even after it was clear that this scheme would lead to disaster, is spoken of today as a noble failure by his admirers.
But the truth is, the Clinton administration was itself at fault for spending years coddling then-Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat. It was Clinton (who made Arafat his most-frequent foreign guest at the White House) and his foreign-policy team, including respected men like Dennis Ross (who is hoping to return to office next year), who indulged Arafat's demands, and lied to both the public and Congress about the Palestinian's ties to terror and unwillingness to abide by the peace accords that he, Arafat, had signed.
Clinton's sponsorship of the July 2000 Camp David conference resulted in a sweeping Israeli peace proposal from then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak. The answer from Arafat was a decisive "no." His dismissal of Israel's offer was topped a few months later by the launch of a Palestinian terror offensive that would take the lives of more than a thousand Israelis and far more Palestinians.
The idea that Bush could have prevented this war or lessened its impact is ridiculous, since it started on Clinton's watch, not his. More to the point, it was Bush, acting against the advice of Secretary of State Colin Powell, whose actions directly contributed to squelching the intifada.
In 2002, as the violence grew in intensity, Bush broke with precedent by refusing to stick to the Clintonesque policy of urging "restraint on both sides." Despite Powell's objections, Bush gave Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon a "green light" to send in the Israel Defense Force to clean out Arafat's terror bases in the West Bank. He also backed the building of the separation fence that effectively ended the suicide-bombing campaign.
Just as in 2006, when Bush supported the failed effort to fight back against the Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon, the administration understood that being evenhanded about the response to terror was a diplomatic code phrase for stopping Israel from defending itself.
What's more, after Israel's capture of a ship filled with Iranian arms sent to assist the Palestinian attacks, Bush finally did what his predecessor would not. He rightly branded Arafat as an unrepentant terrorist, and cut off American aid and diplomatic contact with him. Bush then went on to state that peace could only come once the Palestinians rejected terror and the leadership of those who support terror.
Was that a mistake? Can anyone really believe that continuing Clinton's urging for more concessions to Arafat would have brought peace?
Learn The Lessons
Of course, Bush did make some serious mistakes after cutting off Arafat. Following the old terrorist's death, his wholehearted embrace of Mahmoud Abbas led him to repeat some of Clinton's errors.
Abbas, Arafat's longtime aide, looked more respectable, but was no better than his mentor and was powerless, to boot. Bush's decision to push Abbas to allow elections that were then won by Hamas was another blunder. And, in the last year of his presidency, Bush has abandoned Middle East policy to Powell's successor Condoleezza Rice, who seems determined to re-enact the follies of Clinton's final year.
Though Democrats now claim the 2007 Annapolis conference, which Rice and Bush hosted, was too little, too late, it was just as foolish as Clinton's Camp David debacle. All it accomplished was to ratchet up the pressure on Israel again, while doing nothing to force the Palestinians to face reality and make peace.
As Israel prepares to elect new leadership and faces apocalyptic threats from Iran, with no assurance that the international community will act responsibly, the next president must avoid falling into the trap of believing that every Bush precedent is to be overturned.
It isn't really important whether Bush gets credit for doing the right thing about Arafat and backing Sharon's tough policies, which defeated Palestinian terror. What is important is to learn the lessons not only from Bush's mistakes, but also from those of his predecessor.
If the next administration is staffed by people who embrace the Clinton Administration's delusions about Palestinian intentions, then we can expect the same results that we got the last time: more bloodshed.