Of all the US presidents over the past 60 years, it is hard to think of a better friend to Israel than George W. Bush. No president has been more committed to steering the Middle East toward the values of liberty and tolerance which Americans naturally cherish, and presuppose to be universal.
Bush combines a personal affinity toward Israel with policies that are generally responsive to its concerns. His performance as president is best understood in historical context.
Harry S Truman courageously recognized Israel against State Department advice, but was personally prejudiced against Jews. Dwight Eisenhower rolled back Israel's 1956 Sinai Campaign victory and unintentionally solidified Nasser's hold on Egypt. John F. Kennedy pushed hard to keep Israel from developing an atom bomb.
Only Lyndon Johnson rises above his predecessors for opposing unilateral Israeli withdrawal after the 1967 Six Day War and establishing the "land for peace" principle which specified that the extent of Israeli concessions would have to be directly negotiated.
Richard Nixon was both personally prejudiced against Jews and the force behind the Rogers Plan that called for Israel's unilateral withdrawal to the 1949 Armistice Lines. His Machiavellian secretary of state has been accused of delaying arms shipments during the Yom Kippur War. And it was also under Nixon that secret contacts between the US and an unreformed PLO began.
When Israel balked at making strategic concessions in Sinai, Gerald Ford ordered a "total reassessment" of US policy toward Israel. Jimmy Carter's unsympathetic attitude to Israel is now widely understood, notwithstanding his having facilitated the Israel-Egypt peace treaty.
Like his predecessor, Ronald Reagan sold advanced weaponry to Saudi Arabia. He also stymied Israeli battlefield achievements in the 1982 Lebanon War. George H.W. Bush sought to make US loan guarantees for the absorption of Soviet Jews contingent on Israeli concessions at the negotiating table.
And a well-intentioned Bill Clinton helped broker the 1993 Oslo Accord, which inadvertently set the stage for the second intifada.
BUSH ARRIVES here today with a little over seven months left in his presidency. Though his policies in Iraq were paved with good intentions and Israelis are grateful that Saddam Hussein is dead and buried, we are left with the lingering sense, albeit informed by hindsight, that the Iraqi campaign was a strategic blunder of historic proportions. Meanwhile, the al-Qaida leaders who masterminded 9/11 remain free, and parts of Afghanistan are in turmoil. The "real and present danger" facing Western civilization, Iran, is unchecked.
It turns out that Saddam was not the greatest enemy of civilization; he did not have weapons of mass destruction and was not directly tied to 9/11. Yet, so far, America has lost over 4,000 troops; suffered tens of thousands of wounded and spent billions of dollars in treasure in an Iraq which shows little sign of coalescing. Consequently, it is today doubtful whether the American people have the political will (or the US military the wherewithal) to confront the Iranian menace.
STILL, WHILE Bush may have been wrong on Iraq, he is dead right about Iran - though an ungrateful, sometimes spiteful world appears in denial. Iran is blatantly pursuing destabilizing nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them beyond the Middle East, even as key international players stoke its economy.
Teheran exploits America's dilemma in Iraq by encouraging chaos in a manner beyond the ability of most Westerners to fathom. On the Palestinian front, the mullahs are championing Hamas with financing, weapons and training. Mahmoud Abbas can strike no workable deal with the Islamists looking over his shoulder. Hizbullah-occupied Lebanon is looking increasingly like an Iranian satellite.
The president told The Jerusalem Post yesterday that before leaving office he wants a structure in place for dealing with Iran. Washington already has a strong security commitment to Jerusalem. Now we would urge the president to work for an upgrade in Israel's relationship with NATO. Europe must understand that Iran is pivotal; that there will be no stability, no progress - not in Iraq, not in Lebanon and not on the Palestinian front - until Teheran's advances are first contained, and eventually rolled back.
Friday, May 16, 2008
Bush in context
I am a Jerusalem-based journalist and political scientist and a senior editor at The Jerusalem Report focusing on the Jewish World. I’m a former editorial page editor at The Jerusalem Post and was founding managing editor of Jewish Ideas Daily. Over the years I’ve written for Newsmax, Israel My Glory and a range of other outlets. I was also editorial director for www.balfour100.com and recently published THE BALFOUR DECLARATION SIXTY-SEVEN WORDS – 100 YEARS OF CONFLICT. Before making aliya in 1997, I worked in NYC government and as an adjunct assistant professor of political science. My memoir about growing up on the Lower East Side (well, it is more than about that) THE PATER: MY FATHER, MY JUDAISM, MY CHILDLESSNESS is available via online booksellers, Amazon kindle, and (select) in brick and mortar bookshops. By arrangement, I brief individuals and groups visiting Israel on the conflict and Jewish civilizational issues. Let me hear from you: firstname.lastname@example.org
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