Somewhere on A1A...

Tuesday, June 25, 2002

The President’s speech leaves me in a state of cautious optimism. It was, after all, only a short speech. A speech that gives no real indication that it’s spirit will become part of a new national policy to be followed by the entire government as we try to encourage a lasting peace in the Middle East. After all, the President is only a new-comer, an elected one at that, with a limited term of office while the ensconced bureaucrats in State have no responsibility to the electorate. The President may have the power, but State has tenure. (That's also supportive of the argument against term limits, but that’s an entirely different discussion). The immediate issue will be how Colin Powell reacts.

Is Colin Powell going to be more loyal to his leadership or to those he supposedly leads? Being the great staff officer that he is, I don’t expect him to do anything other than show undying loyalty to his subordinates, especially since they seem to fall in line with his general lean towards compromise and diplomacy over any show of strength and determination. It is that general air of appeasement that will envelope any advice that he provides to the President. How much will the President listen?

It is likely that, in the immediate future, there will be little change in the way our government reacts to events. I think the President is sincere and firm in his belief that the Palestinians are clearly the aggressors and the cause of the continued violence. He clearly believes that the Palestinians have continually refused the Israeli extended hand offering peace. Likewise the speech has done nothing to change the State Department’s ingrained favoritism of all things Arab. It has, however changed one significant fact.

Yasser Arafat is now officially irrelevant. He will never make another trip to the White House. Even in the Arab world he’s largely irrelevant. Only in some places in Europe does he hold onto any credibility. Even if the Palestinians are coerced into “electing” him as their leader it will not change the fact that the PA leadership must change for them to have any hope of living in a Palestinian State of their own. Even the Arab apologists in the State Department will be forced to work around Arafat. That gives me a real sense of optimism.

But bureaucracies are bureaucracies and State will not take this set-back passively. Individual bureaucrats who have made careers out of supporting Arab causes will not magically become pro-Israel. Colin Powell could have a tremendous impact by leading this group into new areas, but the reality is the entrenched, old-school, State employees see him as a temporary nuisance too. It is incredibly difficult for any new-comer to get up to speed on the intricacies and subtleties of a complicated behemoth like the Department of State. Colin Powell has as good a chance as anyone to be effective in handling that monster, but it’s probably too difficult for anyone to master. So any optimism generated due to a statement by the President has to be greatly tempered by the reality of bureaucratic in-fighting. That being said there is reason for hope.

Arafat and his functionaries must be replaced. The Arabs are the aggressors. The responsibility is now on the Arabs to ACT. That is the President’s position and gives me a huge sense of optimism. However there is a glaring hole in the speech.

Consequences! What will be the consequences of the Palestinian’s refusal to act? Does anyone doubt that even if the Pals do anything that it will be nearly enough? Surely the Administration has at least looked at that contingency. They have spent over 50 years falling short of everyone’s expectations in forming a peaceful and prosperous nation. Certainly no one believes that will change because of this speech.

What, then, do we do when the next terrorist strikes? How many more people must be killed before a real change in policy is effected? How much further will we let the Arabs push us? What happens when Arafat is “re-elected?” What happens when millions more Euros wind up in Arafat’s personal bank account? What happens when Iran sends it’s next load of Arms? What happens when Hezbollah makes its next attack from Lebanon? The Presidents’ speech is entirely toothless in that regard.

So, in summary, I liked what W had to say, since that many feared he would come down much more on the side of appeasement. However there was much unsaid, hence I’m left feeling cautiously optimistic. I’ll be looking closely to see how it plays out.

How will Colin Powell react publicly? How will the government react at the next suicide bombing? How will Jordan an Egypt react? What happens on the northern front with Hezbollah? And what happens when the next attack on US soil takes more American lives? We certainly live in interesting times.


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