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Bush Can’t Afford Another Blink


Based on his soaring rhetoric on the defense of freedom and the threat of terror, George W. Bush no doubt recognizes what is at stake if Iran goes nuclear – a sure high-tech escalation of that country’s drive to impose Islamic rule over non-compliant infidels. Presumably, he also took the time to read the May letter from the Iranian president threatening the United States with war unless it followed “the true path,” i.e., conversion to Islam.

Yet President Bush clearly blinked when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced that the U.S. would join the European Union, China and Russia at the diplomatic table in order to convince the Islamic Republic to abandon its apocalyptic goals. The mullahs would drop schemes of nuclear jihad, goes the hope, if enticed by “incentives,” a Mideast updating of Bill Clinton’s failed touchy-feely diplomacy in the face of North Korea’s nuclear quest.

If there was any doubt about how thoroughly sandbagged the president was by Foggy Bottom’s accommodationist tack, it was erased by the surprise he expressed in Vienna at Iran’s request for another two months to weigh the contents of Secretary Rice’s incentives. Why should Iran, wondered the president out loud, need so much extra time to reply to his “reasonable offer”? In other words, the fanaticism of these holy warriors could be negotiated or finessed away (assuaged by “reason”).

It is impossible not to contrast the president’s succumbing to Rice’s diplomacy of engagement with his standing up to the same conceptual framework advanced earlier in his administration during the stewardship of Colin Powell. As secretary of state, Powell saw the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in terms of moral equivalency – Palestinian terrorism precipitating an Israeli response sometimes resulting in Arab civilian deaths.

In condemning this “cycle of violence,” Powell failed to distinguish between the former’s deliberate targeting of civilians and the inadvertent casualties stemming from the Israeli counterattack. Powell, in urging a “peace process” and “confidence building” gestures, imagined that Arafat would modify his signature terrorism in response to diplomatic pressure.

Bush, to his credit, sent the State Department’s aficionados of evenhanded diplomacy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict packing. He accused Arafat of betraying the interests of his people through his terrorism, and insisted that Israel was justified in refusing to make concessions as a result of such terrorism.

Given the president’s strength in rebuffing the State Department on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one can’t help but ask why he took Foggy Bottom’s advice and blinked on Iran. Former Bush foreign policy insider Richard Perle, in a recent Washington Post op-ed, pointed to the move of Ms. Rice from the White House, where she served during Bush’s first term as National Security Adviser, to the State Department, where, in Pearl’s words, “she is now in the midst of – and increasingly represents – a diplomatic establishment that is driven to accommodate its allies even when (or, it seems, especially when) such allies counsel the appeasement of our adversaries.”

Though highly admired, Powell came to State identified with the cautionary, globalist, stability-oriented statecraft of the president’s father. If George W. Bush had trouble understanding that Powell’s “realism” stemmed from the conference diplomacy approach of James Baker or Brent Scowcroft, the neocons around the president were there to cut Powell down to size.

Rice, by contrast, came on the scene as George W. Bush’s coach and tutor. Supposedly, her loyalties were to his muscular type of diplomacy, not to Foggy Bottom’s diplomatic “engagement” school of thought. But that was then, and we’ve now seen indications that Rice has been co-opted by State’s accommodationist mentality not only in her Iranian gambit, but in her response to North Korea’s threat to test a nuclear missile. The North Koreans, she lamented, don’t value the notion of “compromise.”

The president’s independence of mind on Palestinian terror is attributable to a number of factors, including his having personally seen, during a helicopter flight hosted by Ariel Sharon while Bush was still governor of Texas, the physically vulnerable nature of Israel.

Moreover, Arafat’s lying to the president about the nature of the North Korean arms shipment seized at sea by Israel did not exactly serve to increase Bush’s regard for the integrity of the Palestinian terror chief.

About the Author: Ron Rubin is a senior political scientist at CUNY and author most recently of “A Jewish Professor's Political Punditry” (Syracuse University Press, 2013).


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