Dear President Bush:
You had us worried there for a while. In the wake of your
inspiring and brilliant speech this week, one feels a little sheepish to
have doubted you. Yet your trumpet on the Middle East had been, let's face
it, a little uncertain during the past few months.
Back in April, when Israel was belatedly taking military action
against the terrorists who have spattered Israel's pizza parlors, bat
mitzvah parties, and supermarkets with blood and gore, you sternly called
upon Prime Minister Sharon to pull out. (Though you would have scorned
anyone who called upon the United States to pull out of Afghanistan at the
start of Operation Enduring Freedom.)
And in your April 4 Rose Garden address -- in the midst of the
daily horror of homicide bombings -- you reiterated your "vision" of a
Palestinian state and called upon Israel to end the "occupation." Hosting
Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah at the Crawford Ranch -- an honor bestowed on
only a select few -- did nothing to allay fears that you might be "going
And then there was your cagey comment in Europe about not having
invasion plans for Iraq "on your desk." It appears now that you meant this
literally, and that you were also stressing that other forms of pressure
would be brought to bear first. But still, for months you had laid the
groundwork for a policy of "pre-emption" -- to backtrack would have been
disastrous. And to send ambiguous signals about your intentions wasn't
Finally, the vaunted discipline of the Bush administration seems
to have sagged a bit in the past couple of weeks. The State Department was
leaking promiscuously -- suggesting that you were about to endorse an
"interim Palestinian state" and thereby reward terror. No one at the White
House torpedoed those stories.
It is a huge relief to learn that they were wrong. With the
State Department, the Europeans, Kofi Annan and the Arabs all clamoring for
you to betray your principles (America's principles, really) and carve out
an exemption in the war on terror for Arafatism, it was bracing to see you
elegantly sidestep them all.
Your speech about the Israel/Palestinian conflict expressed
perfectly what most Americans feel. You sympathize with the Palestinian
people but have had it with Arafat. You'd like to help the Palestinians
obtain a state, but not if it is to serve as just a new terror capital in
the Middle East.
In order to win a state, the Palestinians must freely choose
ordered liberty, an independent judiciary and a free economy. They must
eschew terrorism and more -- they must join the war against it. As others
have said, the United States is now in the business of overthrowing
terrorist states, not creating new ones.
Some will say these goals are unobtainable. Perhaps they are.
But the skeptics may yet be surprised. Ronald Reagan attained greatness by
standing for freedom and democracy. Many critics thought him giddy for
declaring, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall" -- until the wall came down.
By promoting the rule of law and free institutions for
"Palestine," you are outlining the only true path to peace for the region.
For just as Reagan argued time and again that we would have no need for arms
control if the Soviet bloc were to become free, so the Israelis and we will
have no need to oppose a Palestinian state if it is peaceful and democratic.
And if other states in the region, perhaps seeing the success of a new
Palestine and a new Iraq, move toward democracy and freedom as well, you
will have played a crucial role in creating a new Middle East and much safer
It's true that we don't really know what the Palestinian people
will choose. There has never been a free and fair election there. It is
possible that 12 years of Arafatism have corrupted them. There are worrying
signs that this is the case -- for example, the majority of Palestinians who
have said they approve of homicide bombings. But within the past few weeks,
1,000 Palestinian intellectuals and activists have signed a newspaper ad
denouncing homicide bombings.
Israel's counterattacks have brought some back to reality. You
are offering them real hope. We will see if they have the political maturity
to embrace it.