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Was Bush Wrong About Everything?

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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 future historians.

The answers will assuredly revolve around Hurricane Katrina, the war in Iraq, and the financial meltdown that has panicked Wall Street. 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 argued that the Bush administration has been harmful to the Jewish state. (This despite the fact that most Jewish voters understood the administration to be quite friendly to Israel.)

Part of this has to do with the stale debate about the decision to go to war in Iraq. There’s no question 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. But Iran’s growing strength is frightening, and the decision to invade Iraq must be considered to have contributed to it.

Having said that, however, had 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 in wooing Jewish voters was the charge put forth during the campaign that Bush’s decision to back away from Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy should also be considered a mistake.

They argued 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 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 of the Oslo process, even after it was clear the 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 Yasir Arafat. It was Clinton (who made Arafat his most-frequent foreign guest at the White House) 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 couple of 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 Forces 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.

About the Author: Jonathan S. Tobin is senior online editor of Commentary magazine and chief political blogger at www.commentarymagazine.com. He can be reached via e-mail at jtobin@commentarymagazine.com.

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