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Bush's Speech:Will Bush Be Alongside Lincoln, or Johnson?

27 June 2002

We have now seen President George W. Bush's plan for peace in the Mideast. It is a vision for indefinite war.

The new Bush doctrine has achieved something remarkable. That is, agreement among the hateful combatants in the Israeli-Palestinian quagmire. They concur that there is no short-term hope, and probably no medium-term hope, of achieving for the Palestinians the Jeffersonian political system the American president says is required before creation of a "provisional" state of Palestine.

Despite the president's desire to be rid of him, Yasser Arafat - murderous, corrupt, ineffectual - would be elected overwhelmingly if balloting were held today, opinion polls show. Those Palestinians disgruntled with Arafat tend not to gravitate toward reformers who've won the American seal of approval.

Polls indicate that Arafat's closest rival as the most trusted Palestinian leader is Sheik Ahmed Yassin, spiritual leader of the radical Islamic group Hamas. Another popular figure is Marwan Barghouti, now in an Israeli jail for masterminding terror attacks.

There is also the problem of holding elections in a war zone. Would-be voters are confined to their homes under round-the-clock curfew. But this is a detail to be worked out later.

Who could argue with the idea that the Palestinians, like Americans, have a right to honest government, a market economy and a leader who is respected and not reviled on the world stage? It will just take time.

That is the trouble. In the Mideast, time is measured in blood.

The Bush administration sees the buses blown into shells of twisted metal and the office workers and schoolchildren murdered in the heart of Jerusalem. The president is troubled by the Palestinian mothers who boast of sending their children off to murder other children, preening for the video cameras about their sons' own suicides.

The president sees incomprehensible horror, and he offers accountants. No kidding.

This is a promise he's made. The United States and international financial institutions, the president said in his speech Monday, will gladly oversee economic reforms and ensure that a new Palestinian political entity has "independent auditing." Perhaps Arthur Andersen could be revived to take on the task.

The usual and customary goal of American foreign policy is peace. That is what presidents are supposed to want. Achieving peace, at least promoting it, is a yardstick by which they are often measured.

Bush is a different kind of president. He is comfortable with unending war on a global scale.

The Israelis and Palestinians can kill one another indefinitely, so long as there has been a speech outlining the problem but proposing no U.S. action to help solve it.

The Iraqis can expect their leader to be ousted. The role of the Iraqi people is to brace for some 250,000 American troops moving against Saddam Hussein. As for the aftermath? Don't ask, don't tell.

The president promises to strike preemptively against any nation harboring terrorists or unfriendly nations possessing chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. Officials say the military operation in Afghanistan has dispersed al-Qaida terrorists, who are now believed to have formed alliances with other extremists throughout North Africa and Southeast Asia.

So how many nations are in our sights? How many American servicemen and women are to be asked for sacrifice? Will there be an effort, however quaint it sounds, to talk first and bomb later?

The American public likes wartime presidents. Commander-in-chief is the presidential role that most commands respect. Bush hopes for a place in history alongside Lincoln and FDR. He might secure it.

Every once in a while, though, we get a Lyndon Johnson - a war president who can't figure out when it's time to try for peace. Johnson's tragedy wasn't his alone. It was all the greater for our nation and those who died as we watched it slowly unfold.

Marie Cocco
Published in the Long Island Newsday (New York) © 2002 Newsday Inc.

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