My mother always warned me not to trust men with mustaches or those who, like used car salesmen, cite your first name in the middle of at least every other sentence. With the exception of John Bolton, she once again proves correct. In his March 30 column, “Many Plans, No News,” New York Times’ renowned columnist Tom Friedman was despicably disingenuous.
In a bout of dangerously wishful thinking, Friedman attacks the Bush administration for failing to continue the Clinton Arab-Israeli approach, which he calls “the only viable basis for peace.” He describes the administration as preferring to do nothing rather than “sell anything with the name ‘Clinton’ on it and quotes another who describes the administration’s motives as “anything but Clinton” (interestingly during a virtually unprecedented period in which the left refuses anything Bush).
Friedman’s argument is premised upon the notion that the Clinton plan is the only acceptable formula with the greatest opportunity for success. He says Arafat rejected it “at the time” as if, with just a little more artful diplomacy, Arafat’s approval would have been secured (despite various accounts which make clear that Arafat had made known before he was dragged into negotiations that he had no intention of ever signing a deal). He then blames Bush not only for failing to continue such an obviously wise approach but winding up with a hodge podge of disconnected measures and concepts that have set back the peace process dramatically.
What Friedman is smart enough to know but chooses to ignore is that the Clinton experience demonstrated that the “plan” is irrelevant. The leaders on the Palestinian side do not want and will never enter into peace — in any sustainable and verifiable form other than an occasional temporary ceasefire for the purpose of building back their strength. Rather, what these leaders do repeatedly and exceedingly well is to use the peace bait to extract money and weapons and gain other concessions by dangling the hope that either they or the situation have changed or, if the right proposition is presented, peace will be easily agreed upon. History has proven time and again that the only thing that changes is the way in which the Friedmans, Times, and the left sell their delusional hopes to a desperate western audience. The compulsion to hold onto the belief in a “plan” (as a child frantically clings to a parent) is evidence only of a disease that liberal writers spread rampantly. Its absence is not indicative of incompetent thinking or faulty diplomacy as Friedman’s arrogant disrespect for the President attempts to suggest.
Friedman’s argument presupposes that there is some magical formula that will bring about peace and that the Clinton plan is as best an approximation to it as we need. No doubt the Bush administration has made errors, both in Iraq as well as in the Palestinian situation. What Bush did do correctly is not to follow an “anything-but-Clinton” plan but to follow the wisdom writer Amir Taheri attributes to former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir: to recognize that problems sometimes have no solution or have no solution currently. As long as you have governments or leaders that do not seek peace we can not extract peace from them. The absurdity of Friedman’s argument is that (as he must know so well) Palestinians have a vastly different sense of time than either the Israelis or Americans. Our American system calls for re-evaluation every four years and, consequently, interferes with our ability to stay consistent with policy — exactly what Friedman claims interfered with the Clinton approach. In fact, Bush’s initial approach was precisely what needed to be done: first, refrain from rewarding terror and withhold attention until a real demonstration of the willingness to settle is exhibited. Second, demand accountability from the Palestinian leadership and require that it recognizes Israel and renounces terrorism up front, conditions necessary before any trustworthy solution can ever take place (not conditions themselves to be negotiated).
It has been, in fact, people like Friedman and other Democrat pontificators who have made sticking with the Bush plan impossible and helped transform it into the current confusion of principles. While Bush is ultimately responsible, the barrage of attacks on him and the demand for demonstrable results on a timetable completely out of synch with the requirements in that part of the world have pressured him to abandon the only truly sound formula that could ultimately yield a peaceful result: demand that the existence of a party to the negotiation is accepted up front (otherwise an agreement with a non-existent party is, by definition, not an agreement at all), demand accountability, reshape the attitudes and understandings of the peoples and encourage the rise of freedom.
Pre-eminent Islamic Historian Bernard Lewis once answered the question as to whether there will ever be peace in Israel somewhat as follows: Tell me what the problem is — if it is a real estate transaction, yes. If it is about Israel’s existence, no. Palestinian leadership could not continue to make it any more clear that this is only an issue of Israel’s existence.
Friedman continues that, with Bush, American diplomacy should have been “devoted to building a context for Palestinians and Israelis to act on that plan and a U.S. team to execute it…” As with most Times analyses, everything is America’s fault. Friedman cites that the death toll of Israelis and Palestinians during the Bush years 2001-2005 is more than four times that of the peacemaking Clinton 1990’s. He fails to clarify that the second intifada was started by Arafat after the failure of the Clinton plan precisely because Arafat’s popularity had dropped to new lows. Arafat needed to reinvigorate the hatred of Israel to keep the focus off his own corrupt and failed leadership. And during the 90’s, it was mainly Israel’s tough terror response program that kept the violence down, while polls showed Palestinians were greatly respectful of Israel’s democracy. In other words, actions taken by Israel to not appease terror had begun to deliver results. You see, Tom, while you might wish to attribute the dramatic drop in crime in New York during the 1990s to the Clinton co-presidency (as nationally syndicated radio talk show host Monica Crowley correctly identifies it) rhetoric, you would be wrong. It is better explained by the actions of Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Friedman, summarizing former Middle East negotiator Dennis Ross, further argues that because the Bush administration has effectively left the Palestinian problem to stew, a vacuum has been created only to be filled by defective strategies influenced by motives other than “real peace.” Presumably then, Friedman should be fully supportive of the Bush plan to stay in Iraq for as long as it takes precisely because the vacuum likely to result from our withdrawal there will certainly be replaced with disastrously dangerous strategies and results from parties who will place their needs ahead of “real peace.”
To advocate a return to the Clinton plan is simply a childish appeal to wishful thinking. To advocate going back to the negotiating table with people who have shown repeatedly no interest in anything short of the destruction of Israel is a last ditch effort to make ourselves comfortable and feel more in control of our futures — something to fit our “needs first and the needs of a real peace second” (as Friedman and Ross describe the result of the current American caused vacuum). If the old adage is true that insanity is doing the same behavior over and over again hoping to get a different result, perhaps we do not need the old Clinton plan as much as Friedman might need therapy.
Friedman would serve us better if he would not so easily lose sight of the actual enemy. Unfortunately, it is difficult to be a superstar with Times readers and support America. While Friedman has written about the horrors and deficiencies of the Palestinian leadership, he too easily forgets those truths. Instead of reporting endlessly on what the Bush administration is doing to obstruct a peaceful Middle East, he could use his immense clout to repeatedly make the world absolutely clear about exactly what the Palestinian leadership says and has been saying for years to its own people. He could do so for as long as it takes in Palestinian time to bring about real change. Simply leading people to the Palestinian Media Watch website would help show how much has been invested in teaching the Palestinians to hate Israel, to destroy Israel, and to preferably die in so doing. Tom, get used to the reality that change there can now only occur over a long period of time. Their entire younger generation has been poisoned, not by Bush, but by their own leadership. Moreso, Tom, the anti-American, anti-Israeli liberal multicultural press has driven the nail further into this coffin.
It is very easy to demonstrate to your negotiating partner that you sincerely wish to live in peace. The Palestinians do absolutely everything to demonstrate the opposite. Please spare us, Tom, of eight more years of Clintonian co-presidential nonsense. If America elects a “peace” candidate, we may temporarily acquire a respite. It will, however, be brief. With all the fragility in the Middle East, if we do not begin to consistently and immediately demonstrate strength, resolve and clarity as to good and evil, we will soon have a vastly different world. A flat one indeed, but not the kind you, Tom, have described. This irresponsible behavior and magical thinking will leave us a world with a flattened America and Israel.