Thursday, February 07, 2002

President George W. Bush

In the Pulitzer Prize winning book Maus, author Art Spiegelman tells the story of his father’s experiences in the Holocaust in the form of a cartoon. Each nationality is drawn as an animal, i.e., the Nazis are cats, the Jews are mice (an obvious analogy since the Nazi Cats were, throughout the novel, chasing the fleeing Jewish mice,) and the Americans are dogs. The dog is the perfect analogy because it embodies the characteristics which the rest of the world sees in America; loyalty, friendliness, and trusting naive.Through my dress and mannerisms, most Israelis can spot me as an American before I utter a word. When Israelis or Arabs see me, they think only one word, “Frier” (sucker.) They have one of two reactions: either they try to rip me off, or they feel sorry for me and try to help keep me from getting ripped off. When I tell my roommate I’m going to the shuk (market,) he always demands to be able to come with me to protect me. It is just assumed that I will pay any price being offered, like an obedient dog being ordered to sit, as if I don’t know the difference between a good deal and a bad one.George W. Bush fits the stereotype of the American perfectly. He is greatly resented throughout Europe and much of the rest of the world for his “moralizing” in his State of the Union address, defining his enemies as an “Axis of Evil.” His fierce, dogged loyalty to struggling and embattled democracies such as Taiwan, the Philippines, and Israel is viewed in these places as a sentimental weakness.In most of the world, politics is viewed as a dirty, amoral business. This because these countries have to deal with the world as it is, not how they would like it to be. That’s not to say that these countries don’t pretend to do what is right, but it’s more a case of changing their morals to fit the needs of the moment than it is to basing their actions on their morals. It was French President Charles De Gualle who said, “True causes have no allies, only interests.” The perfect example of the difference between America and the rest of the world is the Gulf War. When Sadaam Hussein invaded Kuwait and threatened Saudi Arabia, there was nothing small, weak countries like France could do about it. If Iraq had ended up controlling 80% of the world’s oil reserves, then France would have just had to either deal with an evil man like Hussein or starve. France simply did not have the economic or military power to send a huge army to the other side of the world and alter the world.The only way that small countries can alter reality is by colluding together. In Israeli history, the best example of this was the 1956 Sinai campaign. France and Britain wanted to regain control of the Suez Canal which Egypt had nationalized (stolen.) France and Britain colluded with Israel to set up a situation whereby Israel would attack Egyptian Sinai, and France and Britain would offer to intervene to “prevent a war” and send in their militaries to set up a buffer zone between the two countries, a buffer zone which would just happen to encompass the Suez Canal, thus allowing them to regain control of the strategic waterway. The first part of the plan proceeded brilliantly, and Israeli forces quickly smashed the Egyptian Army and were heading towards Suez, but the plan was foiled when then President Eisenhower discovered the plan and forced Britain and France not to intervene militarily. Thus the plan, like most of these temporary alliances, ended in betrayal and backstabbing when Israeli forces were left holding the bag with neither British and French military support nor international backing.In this sense, Bill Clinton was the ultimate European-style American President. His ability to forward his political goals as moral agendas was unparalleled, and his ability to execute cold, calculating political maneuvers would have left Charles De Gaulle gaping in awe. He always knew how to get what he wanted from you while charming you at the same time. Most Israelis didn’t figure this out until it was too late, and some never did. During his election campaign, Clinton loved to tell the story about how his preacher, on his deathbed, made Clinton promise to, “always protect Israel.” I suppose they were so busy singing Zionist campfire songs that they didn’t have time to discuss matters which most people discuss with their ministers, such as “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” and, “Thou shalt not bear false witness.”Clinton loved to wax eloquent to American voters about the strength of the Israeli-American alliance. At the end of his term, when it came time to put his cards on the table, his true hand was exposed. The first hint was after Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon. Israel had occupied a strip of land in southern Lebanon to protect itself from missile attacks and shellings on its northern border since 1982. America wanted Israel out, but Israel needed a security fence along the northern border and wouldn’t withdraw without one. Clinton announced, in no uncertain terms, that the United States would gladly fund the border fence, at a cost of $60 million, if Israel would withdraw. Additionally, he made it clear that he was prepared to upgrade the American-Israeli strategic alliance. Israel withdrew, exposing its northern cities to missile and mortar attack. In response, Clinton simply reduced Israel’s military aid by $60 million and then allocated $60 million to the border fence, totaling $0. What about the strategic alliance? “Maybe later.”By embarking on the peace process Israel knew that it was taking a huge, possibly existential risk. Israelis needed the reassurance that, if things didn’t work out, then America was still behind them, and they got it from Clinton. In the end, Clinton admitted that Arafat had, in fact, rejected peace at Camp David II. But the real clincher was when the violence started. Suddenly Israel, Clinton’s favorite little “strategic ally” was under direct attack. Israel’s capital was being repeatedly bombed, the streets were on fire, and mortars were falling on its cities. Clinton’s failure to back Israel was seen here as a great betrayal. His constant calls for “restraint,” even while Israel was taking zero military action, and his even-handed equation of teargas and non-lethal rubber bullets to suicide bombs and mass killings of civilians left Israelis bitter and disillusioned. Clinton had left Israel holding the bag, just like France and Britain had in 1956.There was great apprehension in Israel upon George W. Bush’s election. It was assumed that he would take advice from his father, who was also still resented here for having strong armed Israel into the peace process in the first place. Only about 20% of American Jews voted for him, so it was assumed he would not “owe” them anything. He had mentioned Israel only in passing and did not seem to have Clinton’s sentimental affection for the place.Appearances, however, can be deceiving. George W. Bush correctly sees the world as divided into good and evil. The non-moral European approach has proved bankrupt and failed to bring peace. Bush doesn’t need complicated political theories to understand why terrorism against Israel somehow legitimate. Long before September 11th, while the state department was still issuing its hourly condemnations of Israel, Bush could cut through two hours of convoluted moral equivalence by simply saying, “I just don’t understand how these folks can strap bombs on and blow themselves up.”Bush is not an eloquent man, and he certainly doesn’t have the education of a history professor. Instead of trying to understand and theorize about the “roots of terrorism,” he’s trying to end it. For regimes which sponsor terrorism, fear is political currency. Dictators inspire fear in their subjects to keep them in line, but the dictator must always live in fear of his subjects rising up and deposing him. All political decisions in these regimes are based on this “balance of fear.” The only way to get these regimes, this “Axis of Evil,” to cease attacking America and Israel is to make them so terrified of what America and Israel are going to do to them if they sponsor terrorism that they decide it’s better not to. The condescending perception that George W. Bush is loyal and naive like a dog is an asset in the war on terror. Dogs may be friendly creatures, but G-d help anyone who gets in the way of an angry rotweiler.

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