President George W. Bush and the "Vision Thing"
By Paul Findley
Former Congressman Paul Findley (R-IL) is the author of They Dare to Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront Israel's Lobby and Deliberate Deceptions: Facing the Facts about the U.S.-Israeli Relationship, both available from the AET Book Club. His new book, Silent No More: Confronting America's False Images of Islam, will be published in the spring by Amana Publications.
Will President George W. Bush launch a Middle East "vision thing," picking up where his father, former President George H.W. Bush, left off?
I fervently hope the answer is yes. The former president's project died in infancy. After leading a multinational military coalition to victory in the Gulf war, he enjoyed immense popularity worldwide. Flushed with success and saluted effusively by some admirers as "president of the world," he talked about fashioning a New International Order--his "vision thing," as he sometimes described it. With the support of the countries that helped to dislodge Saddam Hussain's forces from Kuwait, he planned to provide the leadership for a comprehensive peace for all parties in the Middle East.
He brought the disputing parties together at a table in Madrid, but that brief gathering, in effect, proved to be both the beginning and the end of the "vision thing." Instead of vigorously pushing ahead, former President Bush let the U.S. government slip back quickly and quietly into its customary role of complicity in Israel's longstanding subjugation of the Palestinian people.
The new president is uniquely situated to resurrect the project and push it to success.
For one thing, he is unencumbered by the domestic political debts that traditionally keep each new administration from putting strings on the American aid money that goes to Israel. Since in last year's campaign their votes and money went almost exclusively to the Gore-Lieberman ticket, Bush owes nothing to pro-Israel forces for his election to the presidency.
For another, the foreign policy and national security teams he has assembled, unlike his predecessor's, are free of graduates of Israel's U.S. lobbying apparatus.
Most importantly, the president has a secretary of state who is a talented veteran of many years in domestic and international politics and who is endowed with enormous prestige and respect throughout America and in foreign capitals. Like Bush, Colin Powell is free of obligations to Israel's lobby, despite a long history of close involvement in the development and execution of U.S. Middle East policy. Those years surely were a learning experience, enabling Powell to observe at close range the ins-and-outs of Israel's politics and personalities, its military and espionage practices, and the techniques Israel uses in manipulating the world's superpower to its own purposes.
This puts the new president in the fortunate position of being able to support Middle East policies that serve the best interests of the United States, even when Israel and its lobbyists in the United States protest. I use the word support, instead of establish, because Congress usually tries to tie the hands of any president where Israel is concerned.
Members of Congress favor Israel in exceptional ways. For years, foreign-aid legislation has automatically earmarked the levels that go to Israel. The legislation even mandates full disbursement of these funds a year in advance, in contrast to all other aid beneficiaries who get disbursements only three months in advance.
One day, years ago, I witnessed a vivid example of this favoritism. I offered an amendment in the House Foreign Affairs Committee that would have given President Jimmy Carter the right to shift funds for the Middle East from one country to another. Congress customarily mandates aid to Israel at precise levels. My amendment would have lumped all U.S. aid designated to the Middle East into a …