- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 21, 2001

Bill Clinton surely set a new standard for international mediation. The president who felt everybody's pain also felt the pain of all and sundry across the world. Was there ever such a president for emoting?
Who can forget the first Cabinet retreat at Camp David where, in a "facilitated" group therapy session, Mr. Clinton shared his feelings about being a chubby little boy back in Hot Springs, Ark. The session was entirely of a piece with his later heart-to-heart talk with victims of the Rwandan genocide, in which the former president heard their tragic stories and apologized for not intervening this, after his own administration had actually vetoed a deployment of U.N. peacekeepers during Rwanda's civil war. It was classic Clinton.
Mr. Clinton's last days in office when not occupied by signing pardons pushed under his nose by family and donors were occupied by last ditch international mediating sessions. The good old Oslo process got a final shove as Mr. Clinton told Palestinian and Israeli leaders that this was their positively last chance to grasp the deal he personally had put together. He also gave them a little lecture on the sacrifices needed to live in peace, so there.
Then there was one last telephone conversation with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams on Mr. Clinton's final day in office. His efforts to bring peace to Northern Ireland included three trips, midnight phone calls and all-night vigils during the Good Friday negotiations. Mr. Clinton was simply tireless when it came to injecting his own person into others' business.
The point here is not that the United States should ignore the responsibilities that come with being the world's only superpower. From those to whom much is given, much is expected, and this country has an important leadership role to play, whether the issues be military, economic or moral. Just look around Washington this week, where leaders from Japan, Israel and China have come to pay tribute to President Bush.
However, we can thank God expect a very different international leadership style from Mr. Bush. On taking office, his secretary of state, Colin Powell, took the immediate step of eliminating 23 "special envoys" put in place by Mr. Clinton. These envoys allowed Mr. Clinton to circumvent the State Department in his personal quest. Among those eliminated were the position of Middle East coordinator held by Dennis Ross, as well as envoys for the Americas, the African Great Lakes region, the Caspian Basin, Cyprus, children's issues, the test ban treaty, etc. (Interestingly, Mr. Powell was a Clinton special envoy himself, dispatched with Jimmy Carter and Sam Nunn to persuade the Haitian colonels to get out of town in 1994, as the U.S. invasion force headed for the island.)
At his meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair last month, Mr. Bush explained that his approach would be more hands-off. "I am going to wait to be asked by the prime minister," Mr. Bush said at the time about Northern Ireland mediation. "He's got a better handle on it than I conceivably could, as to when and if the prestige of the United States is needed to make the process work better." How refreshing.
The same line of reasoning was on display at Mr. Bush's photo-op with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at the White House yesterday. "I told him that our nation will not try to force peace; that we will facilitate peace and that we will work with those responsible for peace," Mr. Bush said.
So far so good. Mr. Sharon in turn does not expect the administration's Middle East point man Richard Haass to hold his hand during negotiations not being the hand-holding type himself. He believes negotiations should be bilateral with the Palestinians and only after the violence has stopped. His main request for the United States is determined leadership in the fight against terrorism, particularly as regards Lebanon, Iran and Iraq.
In this new configuration, there is some question, however, about the amount of influence Mr. Haass whose official title in the State Department is director of policy planning, but could just as well be "super diplomat" will be wielding in an administration where military expertise heavily outweighs foreign policy experience. Mr. Haass will be one busy man. Formerly of the Brooking's Institution and the Bush and Reagan administrations before that, Mr. Haass has been placed in charge of not just Middle East policy and Iraq, but Northern Ireland as well. He is also crafting the administration's new sanctions policy. As one leading Northern Irish politician suggested jovially to me last week during the British embassy's St. Patrick's Day celebrations, "Perhaps they think the Middle East is good preparation for Northern Ireland." This is not impossible, of course. In any event, Mr. Haass will certainly have less time for either of these most complicated trouble spots.
An equally pertinent question for Israel is whether Mr. Haass has changed his views since the last Bush administration. It may be recalled that as staff on the National Security Council, he wrote the "loan guarantees-for-land" policy, which the Baker State Department inflicted on the recalcitrant Israeli government of Yitzhak Shamir. Back then, Mr. Haass said the idea was to make Israel undergo "behavior modification." This policy basically withheld U.S. loan guarantees to Israel as long as the Likud government continued to build Jewish West Bank settlements, and it was deeply resented in Israel. Let's hope that in this Bush administration, hands-off will take the place of arms twisted.


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