Friedman's Follies

by | March 31, 2007

Everything that happens in the world that's bad and everything that doesn't happen that would be good is clearly George Bush's fault. No doubt about that. Now, frankly, I too accept that proposition as it regards the relentlessly intrusive efforts to put every government action in line with the administration's often crackpot and more than somewhat authoritarian ideology. But, in our foreign policy, ladies and gentlemen, we are dealing with independent actors, and not always rational independent actors, at that. Nevertheless, since the end of the Clinton administration and in comparison with it, critics of George Bush have been saying that he has ignored diplomacy and let the wounds of the Israel-Palestinian dispute fester. Tom Friedman is perhaps the major tribune for this viewpoint, and so every so often he writes a column in this vein. The last time was yesterday. You'll read it again. Next week. Next month. No later. The evidence that Friedman musters for his argument is curious. He lists the Mitchell plan, the quartet, the Zinni mission, the Tenet plan, the road map and the frequent flyer travels of Condi Rice as evidence of Bush's indifference to the conflict. He contrasts this with the "decade of intense U.S. peacemaking--dominated by Clinton--from Madrid to Oslo, 1991 to 2000." Am I missing something? What did Madrid or Oslo produce? By Oslo, we really mean the emotional photo-op of September 13, 1993 on the White House lawn. I declined an invitation to that event from a very high official, knowing, yes, knowing, that this was a fraud, a cruel fraud. Bill Clinton certainly did not know that. But Yitzhak Rabin intuited it, and the Clinton-coerced handshake he gave to Arafat was given, to mix a metaphor, through clenched teeth. All of his Clinton's well-intentioned and desperate efforts (well, not all of them so well-intentioned: his eye on the Nobel Peace Prize, which Al Gore may receive instead, was not so well-intentioned) ended in catastrophe. It also deflected his administration's attentions, as the 9/11 Report makes abundantly clear, from confronting or even grasping the perils of the Islamic terror movement. Just for the record: The White House jamboree was a party for nothing that involved Clinton. The whole Oslo process was initiated by people close to Shimon Peres who had maintained contacts with some of Arafat's men. Rabin was always suspicious, not simply of the process itself but of its patron, Peres, whom he had learned over decades never to trust. (Do you want to know why? Read the memoir of a former head of the Mossad, Ephraim Halevy, Man in the Shadows. Halevy has also written for TNR.) As it happens, Oslo produced some guidelines which, in the end, guided no one. Despite these tell-tale disappointments, the Clinton people ploughed on. In the fall of 2000, they squeezed Ehud Barak so hard, so very hard, that he surrendered a few of Israel's altogether reasonable and significant strategic defenses to convince Arafat to go along. It did not help. Mrs. Albright even tried her feminine wiles on him, to no avail. At the very climax of Clinton's eight year fixation on the problem, the PLO launched the second intifada. It was much bloodier than the first. It is the direct result of the expectations nurtured at Camp David for the Palestinians to think that, in the end, they will get everything they want. The fact is that all of the efforts by Bush that Friedman so derides were shepherded by significant people. They ran into the intransigence of the Palestinians. And the politics of the Palestinians is now in the hands of Hamas. They will not be conciliated by good will and ingenuity. Friedman quotes a shrewd observation by Dennis Ross--cutting, as it were, through all the crap--about the Mecca agreement between Abbas' Fatah and Hamas: If you read the Mecca agreement, said Ross, "Israel appears only as an adjective, not as a noun. Israel only appears in the agreement modifying words like 'aggression' and 'occupation,' but never appears as a noun--much less as a state to be recognized." So what does Friedman take from this? Whom does he blame? "This is what happens when America leaves a vacuum." I thought we no longer believe in American omnipotence. In some places in the world, conflicts are resistant to U.S. influence. Like infections that are resistant to antibiotics.

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