Isn't it amazing how much difference a few short months can make, especially in terms of geopolitical events on the world stage?
Not long ago, President Clinton, frantically seeking some foreign policy legacy -- anything that might earn him an award for his peace efforts -- was presumptuously intermeddling as a peace broker in the Middle East. His Third Way counterpart in Israel, Ehud Barak, was all too anxious to allow Clinton to impose his will and dictate the terms of a settlement with the Palestinians, a settlement that would have greatly reduced Israel's national security.
But that was December. Now it's March, and Bill Clinton is making speeches when they're not canceled and stinging from his last minute scandals. Mr. Barak has also been replaced.
President George Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon are now calling the shots, and there is a world of difference in their collective approach to the peace process.
Bush and Sharon just concluded an "extremely positive" meeting at the White House concerning Middle East stability, bilateral relations and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The two leaders are said to have a "similar ideology and approach to the Middle East."
In fact, the men hit it off when they met in 1998 when Bush was visiting Israel and Sharon acted as his tour guide on a helicopter ride over the West Bank and Jordan Valley. Bush told Sharon as the two were meeting recently, "You didn't think you were going to be the prime minister, and you probably darn sure didn't think I was going to be the president."
In a dramatic departure from Clinton's policy, President Bush announced that under his stewardship "the United States will not try to force peace."
Bush, who is already proving himself to have considerable foreign policy savvy, has made it clear that he feels no pressure to win any peace prizes and will not compromise the security of Israel in order to patch together a settlement worth no more than the paper it would be written on.
Bush is more interested in shoring up Israel's security than in reaching a nominal peace agreement. And Prime Minister Sharon is of the same mind. "The first thing, and the most important one, is to bring security to the citizens of Israel," said Sharon. "Once we reach security and it will be calm in the Middle East, I believe that we'll start with our negotiations to reach a peace agreement." Indeed, a true peace deal is much more likely if the Palestinians understand that the United States is committed to Israel's security and will not undermine her best interests for the sake of an agreement.
Whereas Clinton and Barak were pressing for an agreement even as the Palestinians were unleashing terrorist attacks, Sharon has stated that there will be no talks so long as these acts of aggression continue.
Can you imagine what Clinton's response would have been had he been president when Sharon made such a statement? Clinton doubtlessly would have used U.S. muscle to pressure Sharon into being more "diplomatic."
Consistent with his foreign policy pronouncements, Bush will not preside over an arrogant United States; one that imposes its will even on its allies. But he also won't assume a stance of neutrality toward Israel and the Palestinians, a Clinton policy that was diametrically opposed to our generations-long commitment to Israel as our ally.
Clinton's purporting to serve as "an honest peace broker" was as fraudulent as it was misguided. How could the United States credibly serve as a broker when we have an unequivocal commitment to the Israeli nation? Or worse: How could the United States properly broker a settlement when President Clinton was motivated by securing a legacy rather than securing the integrity and safety of Israel?
Also unlike Clinton, Bush is already acting on his policy statements. He has ended the CIA's role as a mediator between Israeli and Palestinian security forces and has urged the two sides to negotiate directly, without U.S. intervention.
President Bush's approach to the problem and his abandonment of Clinton's quixotic policies toward Middle East peace are infinitely more likely to lead to a lasting peace in the region. More importantly, they offer greater assurances to the security of our eternal ally, Israel.