Jewish World Review April 15, 2002/ 4 Iyar, 5762

Wesley Pruden

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When nuance collides
with conviction | There's a difference between "clout" and "conviction," and the Bush administration is getting a demonstration of it.

"Conviction" is anathema to both the political and the chattering classes, for whom "pragmatism" is all. Washington understands "clout" very well, and panics at the first sign that conviction could prevail over clout.

The chattering class, like the political class, is puzzled that sentiment in the grass roots, where George W. Bush is enormously popular, nevertheless appears to be decisively on the side of the Israelis, whom most Americans see as fighting for the survival of their nation against the madness of barbarians. These Americans just don't understand what George W. and Colin Powell - "Colin of Arabia" to his dazzled colleagues in Foggy Bottom - think they're doing. This is particularly remarkable, because most of the organs of the big media insistently portray the Israelis as unreasonably stubborn in the face of American pressure to go home to die at the hands of suicide bombers.

"The intensity of feeling surrounding Powell's trip [to the Middle East] reflects the enduring clout of Israel and its American allies on Capitol Hill," The Washington Post reported yesterday (almost out of breath with the excitement of discovery). "It could also limit Powell's diplomatic maneuvering room by exposing the administration to criticism from its conservative base and others that its approach to fighting terrorism is inconsistent."

Sometimes the voices in Washington sound like gibberish. Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Republican from Nebraska, where they know better, praises the Bush administration now for adopting a more "nuanced" approach to the Middle East. "This is a world with a lot of gray."

Well, maybe. But Americans in the flyover country, whence Mr. Hagel sprang, understand the difference between nuances and bombs that evil and cowardly men strap to the bodies of children. Sometimes a nuance, in the hands of a senator, can be just as deadly as a pound of plastique.

Mr. Hagel is one of the few voices in Congress eager to defend the president's present state of mind, and the din of congressional dissent from the policy of making nice with Yasser Arafat will only grow louder as Congress returns from its extended Passover/Easter vacation with an earful about a lot of things. The Los Angeles Times, like The Post, finds the pressure of "an overwhelmingly pro-Israeli Congress" growing by the hour, and likely to find expression in a congressional resolution, propelled in the House by Rep. Tom Lantos of California and in the Senate by Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California. The congressional sentiment is "a strong reminder of the tremendous influence wielded by the Jewish community and the pro-Israeli lobby in U.S. politics."

This confuses clout with conviction. The "Jewish community," whatever that is, is no doubt influential in Congress, but the "Methodist community" and the "Seventh-day Adventist community" and the "Baptist community" and maybe even the "Swedenborgian community" is as likely as the "Jewish community" to think that Israel has just as much right as the United States to defend itself. This is grass-roots common sense, which Americans who are suspicious of nuances have a lot of. Only yesterday, a group of prominent evangelicals dispatched a letter to George W. urging him to stand up to the terrorists, not to Israel.

Most Americans had not done the arithmetic, but when Bibi Netanyahu, the once and maybe future Israeli prime minister, cites the statistic that Israel has taken a proportionately bigger hit by the Palestinian terror campaign than America took on September 11, that sounds about right.

George W. Bush, his stratospheric approval rate notwithstanding, just can't sell the proposition that al Qaeda terrorism against the United States must be punished, but Israel must be restrained, or prevented, from punishing Yasser Arafat's terrorism. Nuanced or not, this is nuts.

Mr. Netanyahu tells editors and reporters at The Washington Times that he believes that "in his heart, the president understands us." Most Americans probably believe this, too. That's what's frustrating so many of them.

There may, in fact, be a method in what seems to be madness. Maybe the administration is trying to prop up Jordan and Egypt against an assault from Islamic red-hots. Maybe the administration thinks sacrificing Israel is worth getting the Arab states to sit still while George W. finishes the job that Colin of Arabia persuaded his daddy not to finish a decade ago.

But in the absence of a credible explanation, the president's policy only puzzles everyone. Most Americans are fed up with Arab double talk, European perfidy, United Nations piety, Saudi treachery, Washington's moral equivalence and incessant Muslim whining. If the war on terrorism is really a serious enterprise, why take it out on our friends, and not on the terrorists?

JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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