Washington President George W. Bush used a clunky verb when, speaking to a British television interviewer, he blurted out a thought that, it is to be hoped, indicated his increasing discomfort with his policies: "Look, my job isn't to try to nuance. My job is to tell people what I think." He has stopped doing that just as Colin Powell, cloaked in the perishable raiment of the president's prestige, has embarked on a trip for which a successful outcome cannot even be defined.
Bush, who despises Yasser Arafat as much as he relishes moral clarity, has lost the latter by speaking what he knows is nonsense about the former. Bush is continuing the bankrupt policy of treating Arafat as a legitimate leader and seeker of peace, while an unnamed "senior administration official" speaks to The New York Times about not "compromising the principle of zero tolerance for terrorism."
Bush says "enough is enough," meaning ... what? That there has been "enough" (how much would be excessive?) Arafat terror? "Enough" (more would be excessive?) of Israel's self defense? Bush demands that Israel do something something momentous and that Arafat say "something." Bush demands that Israel truncate a military operation crucial to its security perhaps even to its survival. And Bush says Arafat "ought to at least say something."
But Arafat was listening, and probably snickering, last Thursday when Bush, in the White House Rose Garden, said Arafat "has not consistently opposed or confronted terrorism." Some preposterous process of interagency negotiation put the word "consistently" into Bush's reference to a man whose vocation for nearly four decades has been terrorism. Some important faction of the administration a faction given to nuancing had to be appeased by the word "consistently."
In 1974, in Rabat, Morocco, a meeting of Arab dictatorships there was no representative of a popularly elected government in the room anointed a terrorist organization, Arafat's Palestinian Liberation Organization, "the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people." And last Sunday, on ABC's "This Week," Amr Moussa, the secretary-general of the League of Arab Nations, asserted that "Arafat is the elected representative the elected chairman of the Palestinians." Yes, and Stalin was elected by the Politburo.
Ari Fleischer, Bush's spokesman, says Bush believes that the path to peace "goes through Chairman Arafat." If so, what did Bush mean when he said, in the Rose Garden, that "responsible Palestinian leaders ... must step forward"? That sounded encouragingly like a call to repudiate the 1974 hijacking of the Palestinians' future.
There are two supposedly crucial components of what Bush calls, with literary license, the "mighty coalition" against terror. One is the European Union. The other is called, with considerable imprecision, the group of "friendly" or "moderate" Arab nations. But the EU is essentially neutral between the United States and Iraq. In the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, the EU is on the side of the terrorist Arafat. And all Arab nations support suicide bombers.
Although the Bush administration is intensely, and strangely, eager to get Arafat, a recidivist liar, to say "something," it seems to pay insufficient attention to what others on Arafat's side are saying. Such as the Hamas member who says: "There are lots of open areas in the United States that could absorb the Jews." This is a "moderate" voice, akin to the voice of "moderate" Nazism Nazism before the Wannsee Conference (Jan. 20, 1942) that decided on genocide, having given up hope of deporting European Jews to, say, Madagascar.
A "senior administration official" tells The Washington Post that "Israel and the Arabs have a stake in seeing Powell have a successful mission." But what "success" could please both, given that the Palestinian objective is the destruction of Israel?
Arafat's foreign minister, Farouk Kaddoumi, recently said: "The right of return of the refugees to Haifa and Jaffa is more important than statehood." But of course. The Palestinian Authority could have had statehood on the West Bank and Gaza by now. But the only state it wants would be one in which the western border is the eastern shore of the Mediterranean. Hence the supreme importance of the "right of return" of millions of supposed "refugees," or their descendants, who fled Israel in 1948, anticipating the swift destruction of the new nation by Arab armies.
At an emotional, visceral level, Bush is Israel's very good friend its best presidential friend since Ronald Reagan, or perhaps even Harry Truman. But Bush's policy, bent by persons determined to nuance into inanity his war against terrorism, may teach this lesson: Although it is dangerous to be America's enemy, it can be fatal to be America's friend.