WASHINGTON - George Walker Bush isn't the best pilot in the world, or even in his family - his father was a fighter pilot in the navy during World War II, whereas Bush Jr. was a failed pilot in the Texas National Guard at the beginning of the 1970s. He was what's known in the IDF as a "must pass" man, immune to being booted out because of his family connections. Years later, his buddies described hair-raising experiences sitting next to him in light planes.
To evade service in Vietnam, Bush waited until a slot as a flight cadet opened up for him, was drafted, did six weeks of basic training, was commissioned as an officer, was sent to a year-long pilots course and then was made an intercept pilot on the F-102, the "Delta Dagger," which was obsolete already then. The squadron's mission was to be on alert for Soviet invaders or Vietcong fighters in black pajamas who were liable to swarm across the Mexican border. Bush also evaded active reserve service, and his name was removed from the pilots' roster 30 years ago.
So, a dubious pilot, but nevertheless a former jet pilot, suffused with flying experiences and with professional respect for real fighter pilots. Above and beyond the political points he tried to score from his photographs with the troops when he arrived on the aircraft carrier "Abraham Lincoln" off the coast of San Diego about two weeks ago, emerging from the seat next to the pilot and dressed in full flight gear and harness, it was clear that he took pleasure in rubbing elbows with the flying cowboys from the combat wing on the ship. If Bill Clinton carried with him from his youth the polar transition from Arkansas to Oxford, George W. Bush has remained a bit of an air crew man for all time.
It turns out that the three ranking figures in the defense chain - the president, the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld (who was also a fighter pilot in the navy) and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers, from the air force, attributed importance to air power. Osama bin Laden struck at them from the air on September 11, 2001, and they bounced back and launched campaigns with air emphases, first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq, overcoming the reservations voiced by land generals, from Colin Powell at the State Department to General Tommy Franks in the theater of operations.
Before Bush, the National Guard - a militia that in normal times is under the command of the state governor and in an emergency can be mobilized by the president - took pride in only one graduate who became president: Harry Truman, who commanded an artillery battery in World War I. In the past few months, Bush has been increasingly perceived as a Republican Truman. Both of them began as local politicians who were not held in high regard, entered the White House by the back door, found themselves involved in vast events without proper preparation - Truman as commander-in-chief at the end of World War II, the decision to drop two atomic bombs on Japan and the postwar scramble to deal with the Soviets; Bush as leader of the war on terrorism and commander-in-chief in the war against Saddam Hussein. And both of them surprised the public with their ability to manage projects and organizations, with the help of people smarter than them.
Simple as he seems - something between "simple" and "one who doesn't know what to ask," two of the types of sons cited in the Pesach Haggadah - is now leading two parallel, or perhaps overlapping, revolutions, one strategic and the other political, whose modest goal is to foment change in only two arenas: the world and America. Israel is not the leading player in either revolution, but it is one of the few countries that is taking part in both of them.
Bush's world revolution is not content with the hope adduced by Bill Clinton and his predecessors from the Democratic Party since the end of the Lyndon Johnson era 35 years ago, that the human heart - Jack and Jacques, Vladimir and Jiang, Osama and Saddam - is naturally good and that mankind is progressing on its enlightened course toward happiness and riches and a happy end. Nor is this revolution satisfied with the moderate coercions of the comfortable Republicans, Pappy's cohorts, who are happy with their lot - things shouldn't be any worse. Seen from the new perspective, the difference between the two groups is that the second is soft and the first wimpish. Instead of whining and clasping his hands in anguish because the world is going to the dogs, when Khomeini takes over in Iran or terrorism annihilates thousands of people within one hour, Bush sets out to act, and the conquest of Iraq is a major act, which shakes the foundations of the global order.
Spanish is a loving tongue
Concurrently, Bush is building himself a political foundation for victory in the next three campaigns - two in November 2004 (White House and Congress) and one in November 2006 (Congress), and perhaps for the future beyond that, for the family dynasty to be continued by his brother Jeb, the governor of Florida, or at least the party dynasty.
The working assumption of this foundation, in the key states and nationally, is that it's possible to strip the Democrats of sectors that until now were traditionally theirs. If the Democrats are the Ba'ath Party, it's difficult to overcome the loyalty of their Republican Guard, the blacks, despite senior appointments in the Bush administration (Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and his son Michael, the head of Federal Communications Commission). However, the Shi'ites - the Hispanics - can be persuaded to defect. This is the underlying intention of Bush's policy to grant citizenship to illegal migrants, the millions who came from Mexico and Cuba and points south. Spanish is the second language of America.
The numerical strength of the Hispanics is already greater than that of the blacks, and this trend is even more striking in the key election states of California, Texas and Florida. With the exception of Dwight Eisenhower, the retired national hero, who was not identified with any specific state or party, all the Republican presidents of the past 70 years came from California (Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan) and Texas (two Bushes).
Florida is an arena and command headquarters alike. The American armed forces have nine inter-branch headquarters. Three of them are located in Florida. Whereas the Jews, who fled the cold, depressing winters of the north in favor of the eternal beaches of Florida, brought with them their political clout. This is activated in the Israeli context, too: Ensconced in their old-age homes, they are concerned about the land of the patriarchs. They have flown their private governor to Israel four times. It was harder to persuade his older brother. He was ashamed of his ignorance of foreign affairs and of his general boorishness. In all his six years as governor of Texas, he used his passport only once, to hop over to neighboring Mexico.
Money, Jews and Florida
In November 1998, on the eve of his leap from the lakes of Texas to the vast ocean of national politics, George Bush was finally persuaded to visit Israel (and on his way back he stopped over in Italy, in whose capital there is a well-known cleric who influences the Catholic vote). As cover, three other Republican governors were added to the junket. The organizers were Jews who support the Republican Party (the National Coalition), including Bush's escort on the trip, Mel Sembler, a wealthy businessman who is a fanatic about drug rehab (even if this entails physical coercion, his opponents say), a Florida representative to the party convention and the major fundraiser for the Republicans in the 2000 elections.
Among the Bush crowd, Sembler embodies the winning combination: money, Jews and Florida. As is the American way, he was rewarded with the honor of being called "Mister Ambassador" for the rest of his life. Bush Sr. gave him a second-rank ambassadorship, Australia. The son made a prestigious embassy in Europe available for him - Italy.
Surprisingly, Bush came prepared for his visit to the air force base at Ramat David, one of the high points of his one and only foray to Israel. He knew that the base was named for the nearby kibbutz and that the "David" in its name is not Ben-Gurion but the prime minister of Britain in World War I and the conquest of Palestine, David Lloyd George. He also memorized the fact that the base was Royal Air Force base H-7, one of the eight that were built along the route of the Iraq-Haifa oil pipeline.
An air force helicopter took Bush to Ramat David after an aerial survey of the West Bank, and the base commander, Colonel Eliezer Shakdi, talked to him as one pilot to another: about the few kilometers that separate Jenin from Ramat David, about the closeness of the Syrian front, about the attacks carried out by planes from the base in Lebanon, about the "far circles" of Iraq - Bush didn't pass up the opportunity to denounce Saddam Hussein - and Iran.
Bush was invited to sit in the cockpit of an F-16 fighter, an American product manufactured by Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth, in Bush's home state. He was told that in July, 1980, the first of air force's F-16s, which within less than a year would attack the Iraqi nuclear reactor, landed in Ramat David. And as an encore, a pair of fighter aircraft were scrambled for him. Bush was plainly impressed and thrilled. Shakdi felt that the messages were received.
Why go nuclear
Shakdi is one of the two candidates to succeed Major General Dan Halutz as commander of the air force; the second, or perhaps the first, is Major General Amos Yadlin, the commander of the defense colleges. This week Yadlin was in Washington (and Philadelphia and New York) together with cadets of the National Defense College and their instructors, at the invitation of the Jewish Agency and the American Jewish Committee, institutions that invest money in ensuring that the senior officer corps of the IDF is acquainted with the American system - government, military, Jewish community - and in expanding the officers' horizons beyond Jenin and their local base.
Referring to Iran in one of his talks, Yadlin wondered aloud about the lesson the regime in Tehran drew from Bush's decision to attack a country that had not yet managed to go nuclear (Iraq) and refraining from attacking a country with similar characteristics, which also lost no time in announcing that it was already in possession of initial nuclear capability (North Korea). The Iranian lesson, Yadlin intimated, might be that crossing the nuclear threshold would not necessarily induce Bush to strike, but the opposite: it would afford a certain degree of immunity. It is this conclusion that is driving forward the Iranian project and, concomitantly, more aggressive American measures.
Even as Yadlin was speaking, Bush's political brain, Karl Rove, appeared in New Hampshire, where the primary season for the 2004 elections will open this winter, and promised that the campaign would continue after Iraq, too. Bush Sr. kicked Saddam out of Kuwait. That was a fine achievement, but too small and too early, coming a year and a half before the elections. The son will not desist from his military work before the elections, and he will enjoy three large and decisive advantages as compared to his father, who was defeated: he will not be undermined from within by a destructive Republican such as Patrick Buchanan; he will not compete against a crowd-pleaser like Clinton; and no third candidate, such as Ross Perot, will tip the scales against him.
Like Republican candidates in general, Bush Sr. had the support of only one of every five Jews; another one is likely to vote for the son. A Jew here and a Jew there, with 40 percent of the Jewish vote on the national average and more than that in the critical districts of Florida, even without the ballots that tend to be mutilated and then disqualified, will give Rove's client a solid base.
Plea bargain for Sharon
The question that was being asked in Washington this week, between Powell's visit to Israel and Ariel Sharon's upcoming meeting with Bush, was when the president will start turning a more attentive ear to his domestic adviser, Karl Rove, than to the secretary of state and the national security adviser. That is likely to happen this fall, but the meaning of this is not self-evident, despite the wish of those who are against the evacuation of territories and settlements in the course of a large-scale compromise with the Palestinians.
True, in order to reach the Promised Land the Palestinians will have to fight terrorism, and it's very possible they will, as always, flinch from this. And as if it were not enough that Yasser Arafat is making things tough for Abu Mazen, the extremists in the PLO (and it is the Palestine Liberation Organization, not the Palestinian Authority, that will sign the peace documents) are reminding Arafat that the "foreign minister" is Farouk Kaddoumi and not Nabil Sha'ath and are promising that the question of the return of the refugees will be decided in a referendum in Palestine and the diaspora, where concessions are unlikely. But Sharon too will be required to play his part in the Bush policy, including steps against renegade settlements.
Sharon read Bush wrongly last year: he expected a comprehensive vision, unbound by time, and was astounded to hear the president talk about a Palestinian state in 2005. The work of the government's staff in the American sphere is problematic. It is coordinated by a lawyer, Dov Weisglass, who is trying to get a plea bargain agreement between his client and the prosecutor, Bush. The national security adviser, Ephraim Halevy, was largely correct in warning against the tendency in Israel to ignore the administration's preoccupation with the road map, and was very wrong in his evaluation of his internal strength vis-a-vis Weisglass, who is scornful of him; without the Mossad behind him and with Weisglass in front of him, Halevy has seen his power fade.
The yellow legal pad with the red margins on which Weisglass underlines with three strokes of the pen important points from his consultations with the military (Giora Eiland and Ibal Giladi from the Planning Branch, Yossi Kuperwasser from Military Intelligence, Amos Gilad from the office of the coordinator of government activities in the territories), is not a proper substitute for serious preparations. The Israeli system has not succeeded in creating mutual coordination. An experimental activation of the national command base during the Iraq war, under the command of Brigadier General (res.) Dudu Tzur, former chief intelligence officer, and the distribution of joint documents to all the intelligence analysts at the defense and political levels ended quickly when each of the participants kept the juiciest material for himself and for transmission directly to the top rank.
The weakness is equally apparent in the Israeli embassy in Washington. Well-informed and experienced members of the foreign service (and in one case, of the Defense Ministry) work there at the professional level, but the ambassador, Danny Ayalon, is blatantly junior as compared to the status of Weisglass and other Sharon emissaries.
The vacuum is being filled by Jewish organizations, which have found areas of expertise for themselves - usually complementary, sometimes contradictory - such as AIPAC in lobbying Congress, JINSA (Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs) in buttonholing the defense establishment, the American Jewish Committee in international ties and in apprising the executive and legislative branches of the government about remarks made by external figures. The image of the Zionist octopus is both correct and incorrect: the Jews wield influence, but not at the guidelines of Jerusalem. They take action and report on their own more than they do in the wake of briefings from Israeli officials.
The emerging missed opportunity is of a propitious moment for Israel to integrate itself in the new American disposition of bases in and around the Middle East; Saudi Arabia is out, Germany is diminished, Turkey is wobbling, Qatar is in and so are Bulgaria, Romania and Poland. In the 1950s, Ben-Gurion suggested to Eisenhower that he deploy bombers of the Strategic Air Command from the bases of the Israel Air Force. The proposal was rejected, for fear of angering the Arabs and driving them into the arms of the Soviets. Israel did not succeed in marketing itself as the most stable, convenient and least expensive aircraft carrier in the region. However, the circumstances have changed, and presidents who want to win wars and elections land on Abraham Lincoln, and with intelligent activity, intertwined with political maneuvering, it would be possible for Israel to persuade the momentary pilot in the White House to opt for a different policy, for mutual benefit.
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