Magazine article The Spectator

Bush Wants Much More Than Ceremonial Diplomacy

Magazine article The Spectator

Bush Wants Much More Than Ceremonial Diplomacy

Article excerpt


It is not to be. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a more than passable classical pianist, had blocked time in her summer diary for a pleasant meeting with some of the 700 music students attending classes and performing at the Aspen Music Festival and School.

President Bush has other ideas. Instead of the cool breezes of the Rocky Mountains, Rice will find herself in the hotter-than-hot Middle East, attempting to bring an end to the twofront war in which Israel finds itself engaged which, in past flare-ups, has been bad news for the Israelis.

Rice presides over a department that traditionally holds that almost any deal is better than no deal at all. The President is hoping that his Secretary of State and long-time foreign policy adviser can bring that bureaucracy to heel. A President who reacted to the September 11 attack on his country by invading Afghanistan and Iraq, and is committed to fundamental change in the Middle East, is not inclined to advise Israel to be 'restrained'. After all, America's only ally in the region has already tolerated a rain of 800 Hamas rockets in the past year alone, as well as continuous shelling of its northern cities by Hezbollah.

What the President hopes to avoid is a repetition of past cycles, which have run something like this. Hamas makes life dangerous and miserable for Israelis by lobbing rockets into civilian areas, and sending in suicide bombers, some so young that they didn't know quite what to do with the 72 virgins that many Muslims believe await these martyrs in heaven. Hezbollah bombards Israel with its Iranian- and Syriansupplied Katyusha rockets, of which it has about 12,000, and more advanced versions based on Chinese technology, while 2,000 UN peacekeepers remain sublimely indifferent to a breach of the peace they are supposed to keep.

Finally, as the usual cycle proceeds, Israel responds by trying to take out the missile sites, and to recover its kidnapped soldiers.

Because the terrorists locate their offices, launchers and bomb-making factories in densely populated urban areas, there is unavoidable collateral damage. The civilian casualties, repeatedly shown on Arab-friendly television channels such as the BBC and CNN, prompt 'the international community', whatever that is, to dub the Israeli response 'disproportionate', whatever that means, and to pressure the American President to pressure the Israelis to stand down. He dispatches an envoy to the area with orders to shuttle between the parties until a deal is reached to end hostilities, allowing the terrorists to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

That, at least, is the progress of events for which the commentariat are pressing in their television appearances and in their columns.

To many of them, this conversion of the terrorists into innocent underdogs, and the Israelis into heartless child-killers, comes quite naturally. The leader of Britain's Middle East press corps, the Independent's Robert Fisk, puts it this way: 'You could see the Israeli missiles coming through the clouds of smoke, hurtling like thunderbolts into the apartment blocks of Ghobeiri . . .

The few who were not lying in their basements ran shrieking through the streets -- not gunmen, but women with screaming children . . . The exchange rate for death in this filthy war is now approximately one Israeli to five Lebanese.' But there is a chance that we might not have to watch another replay of this tired old film: scene one, terror attack; scene two, Israeli response; scene three America pressures Israel to cease fire before it has eliminated the threat to its existence from those pledged to expunge 'the Zionist entity' from the face of the earth. …

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