- The Washington Times - Friday, May 3, 2002

Rising before dawn to cruise the wires, the foreign press and an archipelago of web sites is a sure-fire way to start the day in a chilled lather. Especially lately. It was bad enough right after September 11, but then at least you could be steeled by an unerring presidential sense of right, might and Excelsior. These days, watching the Bush administration fall for that old tar-baby-trap of the Middle East "peace process," and then lose its way in the war on terror, is akin to watching one of those interstate chain-collisions that stack up through miles of morning fog. Ghastly. Policy-watching as rubber-necking. Little wonder the shakes set in by daybreak.
Did the day begin with a pink May blush? Hard to say. Even a quick scan of, say, the Palestinian Information Center and its report on last week's slaughter of four Jews in their beds "A Palestinian freedom fighter and four Jewish terrorists were killed … west of Hebron Saturday" is enough to drain all color from the rosy spectrum outside the window, particularly once it dawns on a reader that a murdered 5-year-old girl counts as a dead "Jewish terrorist."
Does daylight help? The finds of a typical survey a report on White House efforts to "temper" pro-Israeli resolutions on Capitol Hill lest word get out we support a kindred democracy's efforts to defend itself; a vitriolic string of letters to the editor in The Scotsman ("Israel portrayal as perpetual victim rings hollow"); and a typically ominous news brief ("U.S. Fails to Stop Russian Nuke Aid to Iran") impose a filter of gloom. While those psychedelic photos of cotton-candy galaxies 420 million light-years away made for a nice change of news-art, they, too, were somehow dwarfed by the tsunamis of animus mounting against both the United States and Israel from all across little Earth. Our response a hasty effort to restore U.S. "credibility" in the Arab world (whatever that really means) looks not only desperate, but suddenly more precious to us than principle.
One simple way to avoid these a.m. news blues is not to wake up so early. Still, that leaves the rest of the day. Another possible solution emerges from an article about the plight of Israel's Ethiopian Jews. Amharic speakers, these African immigrants live in a virtual news vacuum. This doesn't sound half-bad until you realize that their isolating ignorance, far from inducing bliss, is actually quite terrifying. They see Hebrew-narrated news footage of panicked crowds after an attack or find themselves amid real-life crowds after an attack and are cut off by a language barrier from understanding what's happening to them and their new country. Better to know.
Maybe the real key to equanimity lies within the power of positive thinking. That is, maybe approaching bad news with a better attitude would help. Take, for example, that big New York Times story ballyhooing the "new strategy of joint action and pressure to break the deadlock in the Middle East" lately cooked up between President Bush and Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah. So what if this new accord has nothing to do with a Saudi renunciation of its financial and religious, not to mention floridly poetic support for Islamist terrorism? (The Saudi ambassador to Great Britain recently published a most odious ode to a teen-aged suicide bomber.) So what if it actually grew out of what the AP described as "Saudi criticism that the United States was not putting enough pressure on Israel"? Think positive: Maybe "joint action and pressure" i.e., sitting on Israel together is better than none.
But even if you smile, you can still gnash your teeth. What to do? Here's where it may pay to follow Mr. Powell's example. The secretary of state is a big believer in what he likes to call "keeping the process moving forward," and I think I finally know why. If you can just keep the process moving forward, you can leave behind, for example, the centrality of Saudi Arabian support for terrorism. With enough forward thrust, even the release of Yasser Arafat begins to resemble the "diplomatic breakthrough" it's been hailed as. Sure, America, shining city on the hill and all that, has used its good offices to prolong again the murderous tenure of a terrorist dictator. But the process moves.
Distance covered, however, isn't always ground gained. Without a shared purpose, any "joint action" undertaken by an American president and a Saudi autocrat is meaningless at best. Without a moral and strategic basis, the "diplomatic breakthrough" that frees the father of terrorism is equally senseless. Moving forward may unglue us from the sticking points of reality, but the result is just a blur. Stopping to try to make sense of it all is surely a disturbing exercise. But better to know.

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