Jewish World Review May 13, 2003 / 11 Iyar, 5763

Peter A. Brown

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Bush mimics Nixon, Reagan by going against the political grain


http://www.jewishworldreview.com | The Iraq victory gives President Bush an opportunity to replicate Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, both of whom orchestrated foreign-policy coups by going against type and unnerving their own supporters.

Bush's support for a "road map" to peace between Israel and the Palestinians that was drawn up by the United States, Russia and the Europeans offers the possibility of a deal precisely because his rock-solid support for the Jewish state provides political cover to seek concessions from Jerusalem. The war in Iraq has shown the Palestinians that Bush means business.

Nixon was able to open relations with China, and Reagan could secure an arms-reduction pact with the Soviet Union, only because both men cut their teeth on anti-communism. It inoculated them against domestic political damage when they went against their grain.

No one could seriously argue that either man was selling out his country, which would have occurred if they had previously been more conciliatory toward China and the Soviet Union.

The U.S. victory in Iraq has made an impression in the Arab world, and certainly on new Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas. In fact, pressure from Bush helped engineer Abbas' selection. Bush had lost patience with Yasser Arafat, whose role as the unchallenged Palestinian leader is fading. It was Arafat who walked away from Bill Clinton's effort to broker a Middle East peace deal that would have given the Palestinians 95 percent of what they had sought.

Arafat's moving aside has made a deal possible again. Whether it will end the half-century stalemate is unclear. But an Israeli-Palestinian agreement seems more possible than it has for some time.

For younger readers who flunked high-school history, or their elders who were not paying attention at the time, both Reagan and Nixon came to power in U.S. politics by riding platforms of anti-communism.

Nixon earned prominence in Congress through his anti-Red crusade that led to his selection as Dwight Eisenhower's vice president. Reagan won the hearts of the right by denouncing Moscow, which he later famously labeled the "evil empire."

But Nixon, even as American soldiers were dying in Vietnam trying to stop the communist North from overrunning the South, had Henry Kissinger secretly negotiate with what was then euphemistically known as "Red China" to open relations between the two countries.

The United States had made believe that China did not exist since communists took control in 1949. To the world's surprise, Nixon traveled to Beijing in 1972 and began to establish relations.

The result, over time, has been significant U.S. investment in China, which also supplies the United States with tens of billions of dollars in goods. Politically, the ties have meant much better relations; witness Beijing's recent help in trying to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear-weapons program.

Reagan challenged the Soviet Union to an arms race that he knew it could not afford. Then, when Moscow realized that reality, Reagan shocked many of his Cold Warrior friends by negotiating the first deal ever between the two nations to destroy nuclear weapons.

The deal began a significant thaw in Washington-Moscow relations that helped lead to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The relationship between the two nations since, despite disagreement over the Iraq war, has blossomed commercially and politically.

Since taking office, George W. Bush has been a rock-solid supporter of Israel. In fact, his leanings on that issue have been a major sticking point in U.S. relations not just in the Arab world but also with European nations that tilt the other way.

But those credentials benefit Bush now that he is trying to win support from Israel's supporters here at home. House Republican leader Tom DeLay of Texas called Bush's approach a "road map to destruction" in March, but last month he endorsed it because, DeLay said, the president had assured him that things would be OK.

Although Bush has supported the creation of an independent Palestinian state, he has backed Israel at every turn and refused to adopt the European view that there was moral equivalency between Palestinian terrorism and Israeli retaliation. That would presumably give him the same political immunity on the Middle East that Reagan had on the Soviet Union and Nixon on China.

Bush's stance has won him the trust of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon - who says Bush has been Israel's best friend in the White House - even though the road map requires serious concessions to the Palestinians.

Whether all this will lead to peace in the Middle East is anyone's guess, but at least there is a chance. Credit Bush with bold leadership that, like Nixon's and Reagan's, could lead to a repeat of history.



Peter A. Brown is an editorial page columnist for the Orlando Sentinel. Comment by clicking here.

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