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The Book On Bush


David Frum, the former White House speechwriter who coined the “Axis of Evil” phrase for President Bush’s 2002 State of the Union address, is out with an engaging behind-the-scenes look at his time in the White House.Of particular interest to the Monitor, Frum devotes a full chapter in The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush to the president’s relationship with Israel. From the outset Frum acknowledges the extraordinary level of popularity that Bush’s predecessor, Bill Clinton, enjoyed in the American Jewish community, noting that Clinton’s “most trusted aides were Jewish, his administration was crammed with Jewish appointees, both his nominees to the Supreme Court were Jewish – even his most famous girlfriend was Jewish.”

And Frum contrasts the support for Clinton with the low regard in which Jews held Bush, who, he writes, “entered office with fewer Jewish friends and supporters than any president since perhaps Dwight Eisenhower.”

All of which, according to Frum, makes it “really quite a stunning turnabout of history that George W. Bush should have emerged as one of the staunchest friends of Israel ever to occupy the Oval Office – not (as the paranoiacs of Europe and the Middle East believe) because of the Jews, but almost entirely despite them.”

We learn from Frum that Bush, at his first meeting with his National Security Council, stated that “a top foreign-policy priority of my administration is the safety and security of Israel,” and how Bush, seeking to allay the fears and suspicions of the liberals at the American Jewish Committee, addressed an AJC dinner and said, “I am a Christian. But I believe with the Psalmist that the L-rd G-d of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps.”

(An amusing, if somewhat depressing, sidebar to the AJC story is that the climactic line of Bush’s speech, the one about the G-d of Israel, was met with something less than approval from the secular Jews in attendance: “There was nothing,” writes Frum. “Not a clap, not a cheer. Silence. Maybe even a rather disapproving silence.”

(Frum believes – and who will argue the point? – that “the American Jewish community is so terrified of non-Jewish religiosity that any reference to G-d by a non-Jew, no matter how friendly its intent, unnerved them. They do not trust people who talk too much about the ‘L-rd G-d,’ and they do not like it any better when such people remind them that the L-rd G-d in question is their L-rd G-d, too.”)

In the early months of his administration Bush ceded control of Middle East policy to Colin Powell and his State Department pencil-pushers. Even in the immediate after-math of 9/11 it was apparent that, in Frum’s words, “those foreign-policy bureaucrats most eager to appease the Arab oil states” were still articulating the U.S. position.

In October 2001 Bush even voiced his support for a Palestinian state “so long as the right to an Israeli state is respected” – though the announcement was not, as some suggested at the time, a break with previous U.S. policy; every American president going back to Jimmy Carter had, in fact, paid some manner of lip service to the idea of Palestinian independence or statehood.

But something was happening, at first almost imperceptibly, to the very warp and woof of U.S.-Israel relations: George W. Bush was developing an unusually warm relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at the same time that he was being confronted with numerous examples of Yasir Arafat’s duplicity.

Arafat, Frum writes, “sorely misunderstood” the president: “Bush does not lie to you. You had better not lie to him.”

By the time Bush gave his much-anticipated June 24 Rose Garden speech on the Middle East, he had, to the stupefaction of New York Times editorialists and others of like mind, decided that “the United States will not support the establishment of a Palestinian state until its leaders engage in a sustained fight against the terrorists and dismantle their infrastructure.”

The UN and the European Union, Frum notes, had expected Bush to give a “speech that would at last smack down Israel and announce the date by which Arafat would get his state.”

Instead, Bush had dramatically recast American Middle East policy and turned his back on decades of government-sanctioned moral equivalence.

Jason Maoz can be reached at jmaoz@jewishpress.com 

About the Author: Jason Maoz is the Senior Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at jmaoz@jewishpress.com.

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