Do the Bush leaguers have enough nuance to deal with the Middle East?

I doubt it. The White House is still in control of the neoisolationist, good-vs.-evil Cold Warriors, despite some apparent resurgence in the status and influence of the realist Colin Powell. But there are things that make me wonder if there is any hope that they can be adequately forced to confront the world as it is in time to do any good.

This Michael Duffy article purportedly describes the “inside story” of how Bush is muddling toward reality instead of his former, shallow “screw the world, we’re Americans, dammit” approach. Gotta give him credit for being able to learn something when it’s forced on him, I suppose.

But this part gave me pause: "Many Democrats and Republicans believe that Bush checked out of the story early in his presidency in part because he came to Washington with a reflexive desire to do the opposite of whatever his predecessor did. It is true that Bill Clinton had his hands deep in the Middle East mess from his first year in office until the final days of his presidency in a way that the Bush team found inappropriate and even dangerous, given that a taste for high-stakes summitry, in its view, led to dashed hopes and renewed violence. “It wasn’t all that long ago where a summit was called and nothing happened,” Bush told a television interviewer Friday in a not-so-veiled criticism of Clinton, “and as a result we had significant intifadeh in the area.”

Do the people making the decisions in the White House really think that violence is the fault, not of those who commit it, but of those who try to prevent it? Isn’t the intifadeh the responsibility of Arafat, and the leaders of the smaller Palestinian factions, who had the best real-world deal they could ever hope to see right there on the table in Camp David in 2000, and turned it down just to keep their own personal power? Didn’t that put Sharon in power instead of Barak as a result, and make any new negotiation impossible until both he and Arafat are gone? Didn’t the clear lack of interest by the new administration in applying any sort of restraints or coercions to either side look like a green light to them?

Nope, everything that’s ever been wrong in the world is Clinton’s fault, and always will be, apparently. This group won’t be able to deal realistically and effectively with others’ hatreds until they master their own, will they?

Anybody want to try a reasoned explanation for how the previous administration’s efforts to end the fight actually made it worse, and the current one’s (heretofore) lack of interest did not?

Looking at history as ‘Clinton years’ and ‘Bush years’ is just silly. The Arab-Israeli conflict there is a dynamic beast that keeps churning regardless of what poor fellow is in the White House, and regardless of whether or not they deign to be involved. I personally think Clinton did a good job of getting the two sides to talk, and Bush ignored the area to his folly until 9/11, but the ultimate responsibility is not theirs, it’s the people that live there and shoot each other over dirt.

I wrote a long time ago, somewhere, that it was to the advantage of Israel to prolong the ‘peace process’ because as long as they were talking and bargaining openly, nothing much was happening, and that non-eventual period is as close to ‘peace’ as they usually get.

Whether they can or not is a somewhat open question. That they have not is pathetically clear. There’s an interesting story on that addresses Bush and Cheney’s silly black and white view of the Middle East. Apparently, Cheney was somehow shocked when he went on his tour of the region last month and discovered that the Arab nations were serious about resolving the Palestinian question and not invading Iraq.

How those bloody well obvious facts managed to escape the geniuses in the Bush administration–Colin Powell excepted–is one of the mysteries of the ages. :rolleyes:

I’ll take a whack at your question, but first a reading lesson. Your antennae should quiver when you read:

Two points should jump out:
[li]This is a smear. “Bush checked out early” He had “a reflexive (i.e., unreasoned) desire…”[/li][li]The writer didn’t identify even a single one of the “many Democrats and Republicans” who supposedly hold these views.[/li][/ul] When you see mean statements with no attribution, a good guess is that they’re really the author’s views, but he’s too cowardly and dishonest to say so.

Back to the original question. I think that Clinton’s efforts weren’t suited to the reality of the situation. Arafat didn’t want a peace agreement, so the talks didn’t lead to peace.

However, IMHO Clinton’s efforts were senendipitously productive. They demonstrated that a negotiated solution with Arafat is simply not possible. Knowing that, the Israelis can proceed to search for some other solution.

Up until a week ago, the Dubya Administration’s policy for the Israel/Palestinian bruhaha has been (a) ignore it, (b) badmouth Clinton for trying to bring peace to it, © toss out simple-minded black-and-white homilies like “axis of evil” and “you’re either with us or with the terrorists,” and (d) have suggested that Israel should just steamroll over Arafat without a backwards glance.

With a track record like that, I don’t think the “Bush leaguers” would recognize diplomatic nuance if it painted itself neon purple and started singing “Evita” at 3:00am on the White House lawn.

rjung I’d really like cites for all your points except for a. I’ll admit that Bush could have done more in the area. I’ll also say nothing he could have done would have stopped the situation from happening.

Have you actually read or listened to any statements Bush or his advisors have made? The statements have called for Israel to withdraw immediately and for Arafat to reign in his people. Here’s a googled link .

I think you would regard anything Bush did as negative due to your political beliefs because, sure as hell, you are not representing the facts correctly. Bush has never said or hinted that Israel should steamroll over Arafat. In fact he has asked both sides to pull back and actually lead their people. When it comes to leading people to peace, Arafat hasn’t done much. In fact he hasn’t done a damned thing.

Also, do you really think that there are some “OK” terrorists? That, in some causes, killing innocent people who are not connected to the main issue is OK? Or do you think funding terrorists is fine because the blood isn’t on your hands? BTW, IIRC, aiding and abetting a murderer is the same as murder in the legal system.


Sure they do:
(Course, I’m not sure anyone does)

The responsibility for violence lies with those who commit violence. However certain policies can embolden those who commit violence. Clinton is not responsible for the current war any more than Chamberlain was responsible for WW2. They both learned that appeasement does not work. More capable leaders would have understood this and never tried appeasement.

I tell ya, with knees jerking left and right, it’s tough for a gal to get through.

FTR - my preference to to refer to the man as “Bush”. But that’s just me. It just makes it easier to communicate if we start on civil terms.

I suspect that the ‘truth’ may be somewhere in between the folks claiming that Cheany’s tour was a rounding success because of the ‘privately held talks’, and those claiming that he’s as clueless as a babe in the woods.

But it sure won’t be found in this thread, IMHO.

I hate Bill Clinton, but I think the Camp David negotions were a fine thing.

Yes, it didn’t work, and yes, it problably resulted in more violence. If we’re to accuse one of not using “nuance” it would have to be Clinton, as the situation is arguably worse and the talks became a scab-picking fest.

But, I don’t look at it that way.

It was a damn good try, and Clinton managed to put some major Israeli concessions on the table for Arafat.

The fact that when push came to shove they were rejected shows the true nature of what the Palestinians are after, and have always been after; the destruction of Israel.

So, good job Bill. Maybe you did it for glory, or to make the world a better place, or maybe a little of both. Who knows? But it was a good try.

Now Bush will have to deal with the next part. Hopefully he’ll do as well or better, and have a little more luck, but I don’t see any easy answers.

I don’t know how much diplomatic savvy Bush and his administration have in this matter. They certainly know more about it that some of the resident SDMB foreign policy gurus are giving them credit for in this thread.

I’ll say this though; it’s hard to blame Bush for not knowing how to solve this problem, because the people of the Middle East sure as hell don’t know how to solve it either, do they?

Well, let me first point out that I did say “up until a week ago.” The Administration’s current approach to the Middle East is IMO better than what we had previously.

As for the other points:

  1. The most embarassing “blame Clinton for trying to make peace” blunder is definitely Ari Fleischer’s goof back in March.

  2. “Axis of evil” and “you’re either with us or you’re against us.” Surely you don’t need cites for these, do you?

  3. And it’s an open secret that the more conservative members of the Bush Cabinet would gladly give Sharon free rein to steamroll the Palestinians. As Time magazine wrote, “…the central obstacle to engagement in the region has been Bush’s senior foreign-policy advisers, led by Cheney and Rumsfeld. They are staunchly pro-Israel and have shown little regard for the peace process in the past. … They take a dim view of the land-for-peace swap on which every peace proposal has been based for more than a decade. Every time the Administration’s moderates, led by Powell, pushed Bush for a serious peace initiative in 2001, Cheney and Rumsfeld fought them to a standstill.”

Don’t you think the firebombing of dresden or the nuking of nagasaki and hiroshima are “killing innocent people who are not connected to the main issue”. Both were meant as a message “Don’t f**k with us”. The palestinians view themselves as at war with Israel, and the suicide bombers are meant as similar messages. If the palestinians are terrorists, then so are we (I won’t even get into the many acts of covert terrorism the CIA have been involved with over the years).

I am not condoning any act of violence. But one wonders what your world point of view migt have been if you had been born as a palestinian on the west bank.



I get it!!


Wow, it’s a Sign of the Apocalypse: I agree with every word of an Rjung post. Scary.

Truth is that W HAS been disengaged in the Middle East and he owuld be happy to see Arafat buried in the rubble of this conflict. He HAS tried to blame this on Clinton, and he has handled this crisis badly in his soi-disant fashion.

There’s an old legal standard of “don’t ask a question you don’t know the answer to”, and a similar political one of “don’t make demands of your allies if you don’t know the outcome”. Bush told Israel to withdraw “now – and this time I really mean it” and Sharon called his bluff, which makes the U.S. look weak and ineffectual.

You can always tell when someone is too blinded by their partisan ideology when they say that Clinton was a terrible diplomat. If Clinton was anything good it was a diplomat. Sure you may not like what he wanted to accomplish you may not like what he did in trying to accomplish those goals, and he may have failed in many of his attempts. However, that does not make him bad at what he did. It’s not like shooting a basketball into a basket. There is no pass/fail system. The fact that he was very popular among other heads of state and had many other leaders always ready to hear from him, sounds like he was pretty good at it. The fact that both Arafat and Rabin and later Arafat and Barak were willing to confide in him as a mediator has to mean SOMETHING. They must have seen SOMETHING there worth pursuing. Clinton is famous for his charisma that made whomever he was speaking to feel like they are the only person in the room at that very moment. I’ve heard that from people on all sides. So why do people claim he wasn’t a very good diplomat? I think Clinton’s legacy outside of this country would actually be a better yardstick to measure by, than what people inside of this country think of him at least on this issue.

Now all this is as opposed to Bush who has managed to piss even Canada off. I mean g-ddamn how do you get Canada pissed at us? He’s got the entire world hating him in a pretty short period of time, just after the entire world was pretty pro-US. I’d say that is an indicator of Bush’s foreign acumen.

Sorry for the slight hijack, but I just never understood how someone could be SO blind in their hatred for the man that they would claim he wasn’t a good diplomat. Is it just that people confuse whether or not they LIKE his foreign policy with his ability to execute it?


If the suggestion of the OP is that Bush doesn’t have the necessary skill to deal with the so-called “Middle-East” (a term that is, I think, far to vague to describe the situation) and that it is a failure of his administration to do so, then I would ask, quite simply, who has succeeded and whose efforts have brought (lasting) peace??

Painting this confict as a political failure of the Bush administration is, in my opinion, very small-minded and little, mainly because it isn’t true. To use the situation to smear someone who you don’t agree with politically is wrong. Bush isn’t responsible, and has no greater ability to bring peace to the region than any other American president who may have failed before him.

Depends on what you mean by “this conflict.” Blaming the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on Bush certainly isn’t fair. But there is a very compelling case that his utter lack of engagement with the parties and the issues has led directly to the recent escalation of that conflict. With America apparently having abandoned its traditional role as intermediary and peacemaker (or at least peace-attempter), one of the biggest reasons for seeking a peaceful settlement–namely, America’s big freakin’ stick and bigger freakin’ carrot–completely disappeared. Since letting these guys beat the crap out of each other is a terrible solution to the problem, Bush’s disengagement is fairly characterized as a failure.

Why do we always talk about the “peace process?” I don’t mean to be rude, but what does it take to realize that it’s a war. This is a war that has been going on for thousands of years. The only peace we’re going to get is a false peace, unless one side defeats the other, as in WWII, when we destroyed the German and Japanese states. Until this happens, peace will be WWI all over again.

You can blame Clinton if you want, but he just wanted peace (I think he’s nuts, but that’s besides the point). Arafat is the one who declined to work on the “peace process.” His own fanatics would have removed him from power. Remember, Arafat and the PLO were around before Israel took the West bank. That’s why the Jews really have nothing to offer to the Arab world, except the end of their state.

We can kid ourselves into thinking that the West Bank is all the Islamic Radicals want, but their is no reason to think this. However, as Patrick Henry said in his famous Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death speech, “It is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope.”