There are limits to what the leader of the world's only superpower is willing to put up with. President George W. Bush received a Russian slap in the face over the issue of sophisticated sanctions against Iraq. He has quietly accepted the Saudi crown prince's refusal to visit the White House, in protest over America's policy of restraint in the face of "Israeli aggression."
The leader of the free world can learn to live with the historical hug of the leaders of Russia and China and with the conciliation between these two giants that is a matter of concern for all of Europe's heads of state.
But this is where Bush draws the line.
When Senate Majority leader Senator Tom Daschle (Democrat-South Dakota) publicly attacks the deep flaws in the American president's foreign policy in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, Bush understands that the time has come for him to pull himself up by his own bootstraps. In order for him to feel deeply about crises in remote places, they must become a problem for American domestic politics. He'll show those liberal wimps how to run the world.
Unfortunately for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the initiative for sending observers to the territories came into being almost simultaneously with Daschle's attack on Bush. The Republicans are not gung-ho advocates of sending troops/observers/supervisors overseas. That idea could cost a lot of money and could also cost the lives of young Americans.
One of Bush's first decisions after entering the White House was to recall the members of the Central Intelligence Agency who were trying to maintain a modicum of dialogue between the Israeli defense establishment and the Palestinian security services. He did not want CIA people to act as mediators; now, after less than six months, he will be sending them as observers. What has happened between February and July?
The "buzz" concerning the Bush administration's policy vis-a-vis the Intifada, like its policy in Macedonia, like its policy toward the Kyoto Protocol, has become the top item on the agenda of the United States Congress. And, equally important, criticism of President Bush's foreign policy blunders is beginning to feature prominently in the editorials of America's most influential newspapers.
Like Bill Clinton, Bush was warned, as he took his initial steps in Washington, that he would derive no benefit whatsoever by jumping into the Middle Eastern quagmire. Like Clinton, Bush was drawn into the murky waters of the Middle East against his will. Like nearly all their predecessors, Clinton learned and Bush has recently learned that the price of sitting on the sidelines while Arabs and Jews shed blood in the arena can be far higher than the price of trying to keep the warring parties at arm's length from one another. When the subject is the Middle East, the world does not expect 100-percent success in finding a solution to the dispute - but it certainly demands that the U.S. make a maximum effort to put out the flames.
In addition to criticism from home, which has pushed President Bush back into the Middle East, the European Union has not given him an escape hatch. After the Dolphinarium terrorist attack, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer brought about the first cease-fire, forcing the U.S. to reverse its earlier decision and to send Secretary of State Colin Powell to the region.
The leaders of the Group of Eight (G-8) industrialized nations who met over the weekend in Genoa freed America from the trap that Powell had fallen into, when he agreed that Sharon would be the sole judge as to whether the cease-fire was being observed. These have been knee-jerk reactions to unanticipated events and to external pressures. One day Bush is displaying no interest in the Middle East dispute, and the next day he is crossing swords verbally with Sharon in the White House right in front of the television cameras.
The dispatching of American observers to the territories will raise the level of American involvement in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to unprecedented heights. If the Palestinians and Israelis agree to this proposal, Bush, who was reluctant even to send an American mediator to meetings in hotels, will find himself sending American troops into the very center of the arena where the fighting has been taking place. Had he not disbanded the American peace team and had he not settled for the appointment of low-level emissaries, it is quite possible that he would not have found himself being dragged into the position of having to send an observer force to the territories.
In order to improve the chances that the American troops sent to the Middle East will return home safe and sound - and within a short period of time - Bush will have to formulate a lucid and consistent policy in the midst of this crisis. His zigzag policy has already dented his popularity at home and has eroded his credibility in the eyes of America's friends in the Arab world.
If the observer force is not accompanied by a diplomatic team, Bush will lose support and credibility in the eyes of the Jewish community in Israel and in the U.S. as well.
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