George Will is one of the outstanding columnists of our time, and he has significantly shaped conservatism (including my own) over the years. But his latest column about the President's foreign policy agenda in the Middle East is misguided and wrong in several important respects.
1. Mr. Will writes, "Foreign policy 'realists'' considered Middle East stability the goal. The realists' critics, who regard realism as reprehensibly unambitious, considered stability the problem. That problem has been solved."
Let's see if we can untangle some of this.
The notion that prior to the Bush Administration (and The Freedom Agenda) we had achieved "stability" in the Middle East is historically unserious. Would Mr. Will count as an example of "stability" the 1967 Arab-Israeli war? The 1973 Arab-Israeli war? The previous Israeli clashes with Hezbollah (which led to an 18-year Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon)? The two Palestinian intifadas that took place in the last 20 years? The Iran-Iraq war (which saw more than one million casualties)? Perhaps the Iraq-Kuwait war? The Syrian occupation of Lebanon? The 1982 massacre in Hama? The Jordanian expulsion of thousands of Palestinians in the early 1970s? Does Mr. Will count as "stable" the nations that produced the men who on September 11th flew planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and downed a jet liner in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania?
In his essay in the latest Commentary magazine, Norman Podhoretz writes the "50 years of peace" (to use a formulation by Brent Scowcroft) brought us about two dozen wars. This hardly qualifies as "stability."
As for Mr. Will's claim that the "problem has been solved": let's first be clear about what we are talking about. The Bush administration believes the problem isn't simply the faux stability of the Middle East; it is, more fundamentally, the lack of political liberty and free institutions in the Arab Middle East. And in attempting to correct this deeply rooted problem, one might hope Mr. Will would grant a bit more than a year or two or three for it to succeed.