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Jewish World Review July 21, 2003 / 21 Tamuz, 5763

Michael Barone

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An Irish parable, unfinished |
While critics and opponents of George W. Bush try to argue that a 16-word sentence in his State of the Union address was based on faulty intelligence, we risk losing sight of much larger issues.

Bush's policy of ousting Saddam Hussein's vicious regime has been having positive repercussions throughout the Middle East, and a council of Iraqis has now been given the power to run everyday affairs throughout the country and put together a democratic constitution rooted in the rule of law. Confronting and overthrowing terrorists and evil regimes is messy business, with tragic side effects; but it works.

What has worked less well is the Clinton administration's policy of attempting to convert terrorists into democrats by acceding to many of their demands and engaging them in lengthy negotiations. This policy failed with the Palestinians repeatedly: The Oslo process, to cite just one instance, collapsed and was followed by intensified Palestinian terrorism. It failed in Colombia: Former President Andres Pastrana gave up on his policy of conceding a large part of his country to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) narcoterrorists; the new president, Alvaro Uribe, is waging war against them. And it has half-failed in Northern Ireland. The Good Friday agreement of April 1998, for which the unionist leader David Trimble and the nationalist leader John Hume were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize later that year, is in danger of collapsing.

This is happening not in the Middle East, with its despotic regimes, or in Latin America, with its history of guerrilla upheavals, but in the northwest corner of democratic Europe, where both the British and Irish governments are strongly committed to the Good Friday agreement. For a while it seemed to work. A Northern Ireland government of unionists and nationalists was established and operating, with some ministries headed by members of Sinn Fein, the political arm of the terrorist Irish Republican Army.

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Then it was revealed that the IRA was operating a spy ring within the Northern Ireland government, a disclosure that came a year after revelations that IRA operatives were aiding the FARC in Colombia. On top of it all, the IRA refused to fully "decommission" its arms. In response, Prime Minister Tony Blair suspended the Northern Ireland government and postponed further Northern Ireland elections indefinitely. This angered Sinn Fein, which had hoped to replace Hume's party as the dominant nationalist party. To assuage the nationalists, Blair and Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern unveiled a joint declaration of concessions that would be made when the IRA fully decommissioned its weapons. These concessions angered many unionists. Three unionist members of the British Parliament announced they would no longer follow Trimble's lead. His attempt to purge them failed in court.

Angry words. Not all cooperation has ended. Nationalists urged their followers not to disrupt the Orange Order marches of July 12. Unionists urged similar restraint. The marches went peaceably, in a holiday atmosphere not much different from American Fourth of July parades. But Orange Order leaders in their speeches denounced Trimble. About an earlier episode of Irish history, William Butler Yeats wrote famously: "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold." Today in Northern Ireland, it does not seem to be holding either. Elaborate negotiations, very much goodwill, the support of democratic leaders--all these do not seem to be satisfying either the nationalists who want to be in government or the unionists who believe the nationalists are retaining the option of paramilitary violence.

Bill Clinton often invited Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams to the White House; he invited Yasser Arafat even more often. George W. Bush, in contrast, has refused to meet with Arafat and insisted on a different Palestinian leader before getting involved in negotiations with Israel. Lasting peace, Bush believes, cannot be negotiated with terrorists any more than compliance with United Nations resolutions could be negotiated with Saddam Hussein. Whether Bush's approach will be successful remains unclear. But the Clinton approach has largely failed, even, perhaps, on the favorable ground of Northern Ireland.

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Michael Barone Archives

JWR contributor Michael Barone is a columnist at U.S. News & World Report and the author of, most recently, "The New Americans." He also edits the biennial "Almanac of American Politics". Send your comments to him by clicking here.


©2002, Michael Barone