June 29, 2002
Generally, a Policy Not Only Tells Where You Want to Go But How to Get There

Richard Cohen laments that George W. Bush still does not understand what a policy is. You have to not only know what the end state you want to achieve is, you have to know how you are going to try to get there. The reworking of the American Executive's position on peace in Israel-Palestine that took place after the latest round of terror-bombing-murders changed what America is aiming for. But somehow no one remembered that there also has needs to be a strategy for how to get there.

"The weakest White House staff we've ever seen on the substance of policy," was something I heard three times on my last trip to Washington."Weaker than even Clinton's White House staff in 1993."


Answers on An Empty Page (washingtonpost.com) | Richard Cohen |

Thursday, June 27, 2002; Page A31 ...President Bush's speech on the Middle East... started well, with some richly deserved denunciations of Palestinian terrorism, and it called for a Palestinian state sometime down the road, maybe even within three years. Then, in my mind, Bush turned the page and found . . . nothing.... What happens if Arafat, as is likely, is reelected?... This is on the blank page.... How do you campaign for election if you can't go from one town to the next? The answer, it seems, must be on the blank page...

Answers on an Empty Page
By Richard Cohen

Thursday, June 27, 2002; Page A31

On Capitol Hill they tell the story of the senator who was in the habit of not bothering to read staff-written speeches before he delivered them. One day the senator grabbed a speech, dashed to his meeting and started reading. He got down to the bottom of the page where it said, "And now I'd like to outline my five principles of foreign policy." He turned the page and there, in large type, it said, "You're on your own, hotshot."

I thought that story had to be apocryphal until I heard President Bush's speech on the Middle East. It started well, with some richly deserved denunciations of Palestinian terrorism, and it called for a Palestinian state sometime down the road, maybe even within three years. Then, in my mind, Bush turned the page and found . . . nothing.

Bush wants Yasser Arafat gone, and he called for new elections. But what happens if Arafat, as is likely, is reelected? We don't know. This is on the blank page.

Israel now has much of the West Bank under military occupation. "Freedom of movement" is a contradiction in terms. There is none. How do you campaign for election if you can't go from one town to the next? The answer, it seems, must be on the blank page.

Bush called for a "provisional state of Palestine." What is that? What are its borders, provisional or otherwise -- the ones offered at Camp David or the far less generous ones offered by Ariel Sharon? Will moderate Palestinians stand up to the terrorists among them and risk their lives in the cause of a "provisional state"? All these questions are answered on the blank pages.

The president also called for the Palestinians to create an independent parliament and judiciary. The third branch of government would be the Arafat-less executive. Corruption would be banished and people would be guaranteed a fair trial. All over the Arab world, this part of the speech was enthusiastically applauded -- but with one hand only.

No Arab state has all of these institutions. Once a leader gets into power, he stays in power until he dies, of either natural or ballistic causes. Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, for instance, must be the second-longest serving "elected" official in the world, bested only by Strom Thurmond. This was all mentioned on Bush's blank page.

Already, Bush's speech has been Middle Easternized. This is a process where a simple truth, an unambiguous fact, gets so twisted out of shape as to cause a stone-cold-sober person to think he was drunk. Every newspaper in the world -- except those rightly concerned about Martha Stewart -- headlined something like "Arafat Must Go." Mubarak, though, must have been reading about Stewart: "I do not see any indication in the statement that calls for ousting Arafat." There, that clears everything up.

By temperament, Bush is an either/or sort of guy. "I've said in the past that nations are either with us or against us in the war on terror," he said in his speech. That sort of stuff resonates emotionally, and one is inclined to utter a hearty, "Hear, hear!"

But such statements fall on deaf ears in the Middle East, especially among militants. They do not consider themselves to be immoral. They have a cause, one for which they will gladly die. What is needed -- in addition to Bushian rhetoric -- is a plan that holds out some hope for most Palestinians. Then it would be in their self-interest to cooperate with Israeli security forces in putting an end to terrorism.

This is what happened when the United States was heavily engaged in the area and both sides were talking. The more recent lack of American involvement allowed the situation to deteriorate. Palestinians who once had something of a state to protect now have almost nothing -- and nothing much to lose. The prospect of some provisional entity somewhere down the road is a shriveled carrot indeed. With Bush's plan, it's not clear how you get there and not clear what you get when you arrive.

In Israel, Bush's speech was greeted by some with befuddlement. Shimon Peres, the dovish foreign minister, reportedly said that Bush had made a "fatal mistake" and that a bloodbath would follow. Leftist commentators wondered aloud what part of the world Bush was talking about, insisting on a Western-style democracy in the West Bank.

Bush has adopted an admirable moral posture, and his contempt for the weasel, Arafat, is well justified. But rhetoric is not a plan and no plan was forthcoming. "He can still make another speech," said Henry Siegman of the Council on Foreign Relations. If he does, it ought to have no blank pages.

Posted by DeLong at June 29, 2002 08:47 AM | Trackback

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"Do not imagine that it is only wild beasts which preserve their ferocity when newly captured but after being fed for some time at the hands of men grow tame."

Titus Livius (Livy), c. 59 BC - AD 17., History of Rome, ( 38.17 ).

Posted by: Jean-Philippe Stijns on July 12, 2002 05:54 PM

I thought I should clarify Livy's thought by adding the following quote:

"After becoming hardened and savage by all they had to go through, they have found a home in a land which makes them fat with bountiful
supplies of every kind. All the ferocity which they brought with them has been tamed by a most fertile soil, a most genial climate and the gentle character of the people amongst whom they have settled." History of Rome (29.25)

In other words, gentle living conditions are known since the Antiquity to foster gentle attitudes, and vice-versa...

Posted by: Jean-Philippe Stijns on July 12, 2002 07:22 PM
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