- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 10, 2002

Our allies and friends in Europe and the Middle East remind me of Prince Metternich's description of the Prussian royal court: "A conspiracy of mediocrities united by the common terror of any decisive action." But because it is difficult perhaps not feasible for even the mighty United States to walk alone in this world, President Bush is obliged to try to congeal these gobs of jelly into a reasonably solid platform from which he can launch a series of decisive battles against terror in Iraq, the Horn of Africa and other of the world's garden spots.

Since September 11, it is obvious that Mr. Bush has firmly grasped the fundamentals of the situation: Everything must come second to our paramount need to extinguish terrorists who might reach our soil and the weapons of mass destruction that might reach their grip. In the last two weeks of Middle East chaos, among the things that had to come second to that paramount need has been the president's reputation for straight talk. He has reluctantly, but decisively, plunged into the inglorious world of coded diplomatic language.

Or to put it more bluntly, he has been forced to use words manipulatively and insincerely in order to assuage our contemptible, but necessary, allies. Gary Cooper has been forced to masquerade as a used car salesman saying and doing almost anything to make the sale. If the president can temporarily sacrifice his cherished reputation for straight talk, we Americans who support his struggle against terror must be willing to temporarily sacrifice our scorn for manipulative political language.

As I understand the last few weeks, Mr. Bush has been winking to us as much as he can. But here's the challenge he faces. Our European and Muslim friends became hysterical over Israel's march into the West Bank. Even though Mr. Bush knows the chance of negotiating a meaningful peace with Yasser Arafat and the suicide bombers is nil, those deluded and frantic friends think there is a chance and have insisted that Mr. Bush make the effort. To make the effort, he had to temporarily agree to work with Mr. Arafat and not call him what he is a terrorist and a protector of terrorists.

He also has been compelled to insist that Israel pull back even though he understands that once the suicide bombers start up again, Israel will have to go in again. If we are disgusted by this idiocy, imagine how the president must feel.

We got some sense of his true instincts when he talked to the press at his Crawford Ranch dressed in denim and slouched in his chair. He let Mr. Arafat have it with both barrels. Of course the highest ranking government official down there, other than the president, was a deputy press secretary. When his senior aides in Washington saw that performance they rushed to correctly remind him of his larger if distasteful duties. To wit, his Thursday White House remarks with Colin Powell stolidly by his side in which the president announced all the foolishness that is currently afoot with the Powell mission. I am told that Mr. Bush was so reluctant to have to utter those words, that his remarks went through 17 drafts.

Now, the same media commentators who have misunderstood the world since their college days have pronounced that with the president's deeper involvement in the Middle East mess, his authority and credibility will be smashed, should he not succeed. They are as wrong now, in their stylish clothes, as they were 30 years ago in their bell bottoms and beads.

The only thing Mr. Bush needs to gain is Israel's temporary withdrawal from most of the West Bank. And he will get that because it is in Israel's national interest to comply. Israel's grand strategy going back 100 years to the time before it was even a state, when there was only a First National Zionist Congress has been to ally with a great power: First it was with the Ottoman Empire; after World War I it was with Great Britain; and after World War II it has been with the United States. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is not mad, only stubborn.

And Israel's pullback will be sufficient, because the American people if not the media savants don't expect any more. Consider yesterday's CNN Gallup Poll. Sixty-seven percent approve of Mr. Bush's policy in the Middle East, but only 48 percent think he has a clear policy and only 39 percent expect Mr. Powell to accomplish anything. And by 74 percent to 21 percent the public doesn't believe that if we reduce our support for Israel we will reduce the risk of terrorist attack on us.

In other words, a sensible American public understands our enduring threat from terrorism, doesn't expect any resolution of the mess in the Middle East and supports whatever the hell the president is doing there.

Those of the president's supporters who are getting agitated over his recent circumlocutions should understand that he is play-acting to an audience of fools and (as Shakespeare once wrote) he is signifying … nothing.

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