- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 10, 2002

In the last few weeks, almost exactly six months since the tragedies of September 11, the Bush administration slipped into its next stage. Unfortunately, it's going to be a tough one compared to the last highly successful half-year, because it is not a stage that showcases the president's particular talents.
After September 11, we saw the best of George W. Bush and, under propitious circumstances, that can be very good indeed. We saw a leader of controlled but disciplined fervor who knew how to express with his person and words the anguish of the American people; we witnessed a man who was unwaveringly decisive, and a man who could deftly oversee the talented, but sometimes dissenting, men and women about him.
One cannot help but feel that this period from mid-September to mid-March was tailor-made for "W's" personality and style of leadership. The essence of that is demonstrated in his rather effusive use of the word "evil." The president tends to see things passionately only when they are in black and white, when he can delineate them in terms of good vs. evil. Good luck in the world that's coming.
Remember for a moment George W.'s first eight months and how clearly disappointing they were. The world seemed not the biblical "too much for him," but a Realpolitik that was complex and confusing: a world in grays and beiges, in which he couldn't get his measure around faith-based initiatives and social promotion in the schools, much less the Middle East and Central Asia.
With September 11, his abilities flowed and his talents glowed: The world was black and white, he finally had his "good war" against palpable evil, and he did not have to bother about gradualist, evolutionary, political means or having to persuade others of what he knew to be true. (Texans never were particularly good at walking in others' moccasins.)
And now… within only the last few weeks, the world has broken all the boundaries we so helpfully put in place (for others' good, of course, as well as our own). Suddenly, our crystal-clear "good war" against the evil Taliban and al Qaeda seems gray.
Americans fight on the ground in Afghanistan as if in some replay of the British there in the 1800s. Indian Hindus and Muslims massacre each other as if it were 1947. The Colombian army wages an all-out war against Marxist guerrillas. And worst of all, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict threatens to burn up the entire Middle East. How could the world turn on us like that, just when we thought we had it in some kind of order?
Look at Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's visit to Washington last week to better understand this next phase.
Despite carefully waged campaigns against him and Egypt over the last six months by neo-conservatives and perfervid supporters of Israel, Mr. Mubarak has done a great deal, most of it quietly, to support the United States in the president's war against terrorism. Egypt has exchanged crucial intelligence and warnings of terrorist acts with Washington; thousands of American troops have recently conducted Egyptian-American exercises there; above all, while London and Hamburg welcomed Arab terrorists to make their case in Europe, Egypt was for years, and with considerable violence, wiping out their cells.
On his trip here this week, President Mubarak, a plain-speaking man who looks for workable answers, told President Bush he would host a summit meeting in Cairo between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to seek ways to peace. This followed up the dramatic suggestion of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, put forth two weeks ago, that the Arab states fully recognize Israel in exchange for, in effect, Israel allowing the construction of a viable Palestinian state.
But even while unprecedented numbers of Palestinians and Israelis were being slain during those same days and even while the situation cried out for a serious and tough-minded American policy President Bush rebuffed both the Saudi and the Egyptian offers. Once again, he repeated Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's cynical requirement that there must be a total halt to violence before negotiations could begin.
Apparently the president needs political scientists in the White House to tell him how situations like this really change.
In no poisoned situation such as Israel-Palestine do you ever can you ever reduce radicalism or extremism by forcing the extremists to stop. They won't. Instead, you undercut them by reducing or eliminating the factors that create them. But this is not the clear good-and-evil nexus of the last six months. This demands complex and sophisticated long-range policies to protect our interests by eliminating the causes of the problems that threaten those interests, whether the Middle East conflict, uncontrolled immigration to the United States or out-of-control population in the countries that support terrorism none of which Mr. Bush has shown the slightest inclination to address.
Ironically, the president, while he embraces the hopeless Sharon rhetoric, is not standing with the majority of Israelis, who repeatedly show in polls and surveys that they, like the majority of Palestinians, want a return to the peace process. He is not listening to Israel's finest leaders, like Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, who said last week that he would not have joined the Sharon government if he had known Israel was going to arrive at its present, disastrous stage.
Thus it is that, in this second stage after September 11, America faces still another dilemma. The neutralized Democrats lack the will to use force effectively because essentially they don't believe America has anything relevant to say to the world. The pugnacious Republicans think they can use force for almost anything and force unconnected to diplomacy, to persuasion or to the needs or sensitivities of other peoples.
Poor us, caught in the muddle, trapped in the middle.

Georgie Anne Geyer is a nationally syndicated columnist.



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