He said firmly he does not believe the current Palestinian leadership wants to eliminate Israel. That will require proof. The president's word, while welcome, is not enough to quell the concerns of skeptics who have seen these scenarios played out across many administrations and all with the same result.
Speaking of what he called the "ideological" conflict inherent in radical Islam (he scrupulously avoided calling it a religious conflict), the president said the struggle would not end, even if Iraq turns out well. "I think it's a war that's going to last 50 years." Yet, he says old enemies can become friends and cited the Japanese as an example. "Enemies can become allies."
It is a strong analogy. The Japanese under Emperor Hirohito were driven by religious zeal. Many Japanese worshipped Hirohito as a god and were profoundly disturbed when he appeared in public to announce Japan's surrender. Does the analogy hold with radical Islam, which is spread over a far wider area with many more adherents than tiny Japan six decades ago? That is a judgment that also may take 50 years to sort out.
President Bush has made an enormous gamble - In Iraq and with the push for a Palestinian state. If he's right, future historians will regard him as one of this country's greatest presidents. If he's wrong, the United States and the world will be paying the price for his misjudgment for much longer than 50 years. Even his severest critics should hope he's right, regardless of who gets the credit.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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