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A tale of two books and how the media control what you know and whether you know. A tale of two books one harshly critical of President Bush the other highly unflattering to Sen. Hillary Clinton. A tale of two books the first of which rode a wave of media hype to bestsellerdom the second of which was all but ignored.

When The Price of Loyalty was released late last year journalists could not get enough of its author Ron Suskind and its protagonist Paul O’Neill the former treasury secretary who left the Bush administration on less than friendly terms.

O’Neill’s negative depiction of the Bush White House was repeated ad nauseam in newspapers and magazines and on television and the Internet. Although the book was somewhat more nuanced than the media’s depiction of it as an expose of a simpleton president whose competence barely extends past his ability to tie his own shoelaces there was no getting around the contempt harbored by Suskind and O’Neill for Bush.


But there are some telling chinks in O’Neill’s thesis of Bush as bonehead none more so than Suskind’s account of a high level White House meeting very early on in Bush’s administration.

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 with his determination to shift the course of U.S. policy in the Middle East.

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 then asked Anybody here ever met [Ariel] Sharon? Suskind continues the narrative: After a moment Powell sort of raised his hand. Yes he had. I’m not going to go by past reputations when it comes to Sharon Bush said. I’m going to take him at face value. We’ll work out a relationship based on how things go. He’d met Sharon briefly Bush said when they had flown over Israel in a helicopter on a visit in December 1998. Just saw him that one time. We flew over the Palestinian camps Bush said sourly. 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.

Powell protested that such a move might be hasty and spoke of the roots of the violence in the Palestinian areas. He stressed writes 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.

Bush according to Suskind and O’Neill shrugged. Maybe that’s the best way to get things back in balance he said. Sometimes a show of strength by one side can really clarify things.

So here was Bush the media-caricatured simpleton a week and a half into his presidency and some nine months before Sept. 11 making it clear that he was going to tilt U.S. policy back toward Israel. And here was Bush the man his opponents (including the self-contradictory O’Neill) tell us is an empty suit in thrall to a coterie of Machiavellian advisers refusing to be taken in by Colin Powell’s State Department-style prattle.

O’Neill of course did not relate this story in order to cast Bush in a positive light. To the contrary – in O’Neill’s eyes this was an example of a brash and inexperienced president overruling wiser and more experienced government hands. But in that one exchange the still untried and untested Bush demonstrated a grasp of fundamental Mideast realities that eluded policy wonk Bill Clinton for eight long years and that probably would never cross the allegedly complex mind of John Kerry.

As National Review’s David Frum wrote earlier this year:

The Clinton administration set the creation of a Palestinian state as one of its supreme foreign-policy priorities and pushed the Israelis to one concession after another. In 1996 for example President Clinton pressured Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu into surrendering Hebron to the Palestinian Authority.

And what did the Clinton administration get for its hard work? Nineteen ninety-six was not only the year of bin Laden’s first fatwa. It was also the year that Saudi Arabia stonewalled the U.S. investigation into the Khobar Towers attack that killed 19 American service personnel; that a huge cache of Iranian weapons intended for attacks against European Jews was intercepted in Antwerp; and finally that the allied coalition against Saddam began to crumble.

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Jason Maoz served as Senior Editor of The Jewish Press from 2001-2018. Presently he is Communications Coordinator at COJO Flatbush.