Since U.S. President George W. Bush was sworn in for his second term, some of his greatest critics (including this writer) are wondering whether they were mistaken when they prophesied that the 43rd president would barely rate a footnote in American history, not to mention a place in world history.
A recent series of appointments - or to be more precise, the "kicking upstairs" that has taken place in the top echelons of the administration - seem to testify that the president no longer adheres to the neoconservative approach, which holds that what doesn't work by force, will work by greater force. To appoint Undersecretary of State John Bolton, who once said that nobody would notice if 10 stories of the UN building were shaved off, as ambassador to the UN, and to send the deputy secretary of defense, isolationist Paul Wolfowitz, to the World Bank, is like ordering the class he-man to play with dolls alongside the girls. Nor did the White House go out of its way to try to change the decision of the undersecretary, neocon Douglas Feith, to go home.
The "upgrading" of Condoleezza Rice to the office of the secretary of state and the promotion of Steve Hadley, who was her deputy in the White House, to national security adviser, are seen as a sort of clipping of the wings of Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld - the leaders of the gang of neocons. Apparently the new duo is succeeding where former secretary of state Colin Powell and the foreign service professionals have failed: They convinced Bush that the policy of "I'm the only one who counts" has exhausted itself, and that translating the military achievement in Iraq into a political victory in the Middle East requires close cooperation with Europe and the Arab countries.
Washington is no longer plugging its ears to the claims of the leaders of Great Britain and France, Egypt and Jordan, that the key to stabilizing the Middle East lies in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Even the Europeans who belittled Bush's vision of the Palestinian state, and the Arabs who believed that his demand for democratization in their countries was only a way out of realizing that same vision, are having second thoughts. Whether out of a desire to join the group that is turning out to be the victor, or whether from a desire to grasp the Bush vision, in the European Union and the Arab League there is a growing tendency to adopt the president's line. The quick Syrian response to the American-European demand to withdraw its forces from Lebanon has demonstrated to all the sides the advantage of a Western peace coalition. The mass demonstrations in Beirut, as well as Mubarak's declaration regarding election reform in Egypt, demonstrate that if America wants it, Arab democracy is no dream.
The adherence of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to the disengagement plan paved the way for Europe's leaders to attend the dedication ceremony of the new Yad Vashem museum last week. His meeting with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) provided Egypt with an excuse to send an ambassador to Tel Aviv. King Abdullah of Jordan did not make do with returning his ambassador: He spent recent weeks in an information and pressure campaign in Arab capitals, in an effort to elicit from the Arab League summit that will convene tomorrow in Algiers a decision that will demonstrate more generosity toward Israel than did the Arab peace initiative of three years ago. The refusal of most of the Arab countries to support the Jordanian formula does not have to detract from the importance of the initiative, which includes recognition of the 1967 borders, normalization and a consensual solution with Israel to the problem of the Palestinian refugees.
A series of Palestinian terror attacks accompanied by Israeli retaliation actions would suffice to turn all this into a swamp. The steps taken by the Abu Mazen and Sharon governments will determine not only the fate of the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip that will begin on July 20. Israel's policy in the territories will have a decisive influence on the results of the elections in the territories. The worse the situation there, the better the situation of Hamas at the polls. And if the day after the disengagement it turns out that "Gaza-first" is also "Gaza-the end," the Europeans will once again attack us, the Arabs will recall their ambassadors, and the extremists of both nations will once again reign in the territories.
Everything now depends on the president of the United States, the only person with an influence on Sharon. On April 12, the day after the meeting with Sharon on the Texas ranch, we will know whether we have to apologize to George W. Bush.
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