Tuesday, June 25, 2002
In his piece today, Bush is rewarding terrorism, Daniel Pipes takes a far too pessimistic view of the President's speech. Let's refute him point by point.
* Pipes quibbles with Bush saying that only "few" Palestinians are opposed to peace and they have captured the rest, when all the polls show Palestinians strongly in favor of suicide murderers and against compromise with Israel. But really, what do you expect the President to say? And for that matter, what do you expect Palestinians to say? Did the President ever say, "the Afghani people are evil and must be destroyed" - and had he done so, would it have served America in any way? The President rightly portrayed Afghanistan as effectively occupied by a radical Arab clique surrounding bin Laden, and spun our war against them as not only retaliation for their attacks but a war of liberation for the Afghan people. His comments about the Palestinians fit the same mold.
* He zings Bush for moral equivalence for saying that while Israelis must be free of terror, Palestinians must be free of squalor and occupation. But again, what is there to object to here? There are two evil results, one inflicted on the Israelis, one on the Palestinians. But the cause of both results is the same: the terroristic and corrupt Palestinian leadership. On that, the President was clear. And that's where "moral equivalence" is a problem: when we're talking about actions, not impacts. I'm perfectly willing to accept that the Palestinians are suffering more than the Israelis. I'm just not willing to deny that their suffering is their fault and the fault of their leadership.
* In that regard, Pipes criticizes Bush for saying that the Palestinians have been "treated as pawns," saying this denies them moral agency. But again, there's a great deal of truth to the President's statement - and an important truth at that. The primary reason the Palestinians are suffering so is that the Arab leadership - their own and that of the rest of the Arab world - has not given a fig for what happens to the Palestinian people, preferring to use them for political purposes rather than to relieve their suffering. A far distant second reason is the Israeli occupation and, even more so, the Israeli decision to try to coopt Arafat into being "our thug" via the Oslo process.
* He attacks Bush for his emphasis on democratic reform rather than focusing on Palestinian acceptance of Israel. But I don't see how Bush could have made it clearer that an essential part of reform is to end terrorism.
* His final point, therefore, is that terrorism is not the key, because it is a tactic in a larger war to destroy Israel, and this war is what must be abandoned before a Palestinian state can be created. But peace is the one thing that has always been on the agenda; it is reform of the P.A., the demand for new leadership, and the demand for an absolute end to terror that are new. Moreover, Bush explicitly said that the Arab world as a whole is expected to move towards full normalization as Israel and the Palestinians move towards a peaceful solution to their dispute - in other words, the goal is not a ceasefire, and the goal of general normalization is not a reward for Israeli concessions but an integral part of the process of bringing a Palestinian state into being.
Pipes' criticisms really amount to a quibble over tone. Pipes would like to have heard Bush say: the Palestinian people are suffused with hate, and must be defeated utterly if there is ever to be peace. I think it should be obvious why he did not say that - why no American President would ever say that. At the height of the Cold War, with Soviet missiles poised to destroy American cities, the United States never said that the Russian people were essentially evil and had to be defeated utterly. We said that Communism was evil, and that the peoples subject to Communist despotism had to be freed. That's the right message in this case, too.
What Pipes might have said, legitimately, is that the work of building a democracy is not easy by any means. And there must be a reason why there are no democracies in the Arab world. How we are to get from the reality to Bush's "vision" of two peaceful and democratic states is where the rubber hits the road. I have my doubts if such a thing is even possible - and if it isn't, then we need to know what the backup plan is. So we'll see if Bush's policies follow through on his rhetoric. But as far as rhetoric goes, I think Bush's message was spot-on - and far better than anyone could have exepcted.