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Jewish World Review Nov. 20, 2001 / 5 Kislev, 5762

Diana West

Diana West
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Consumer Reports

Tough talk at the United Nations -- WERE the members of the U.N. General Assembly listening when George W. Bush gave them a lesson in the new way of the world? Bush's U.N. address last Saturday, delivered with the unadorned grace of plainspoken English, may have marked the first time diplomats accustomed to well-padded euphemism ever heard anything like it.

After expressing America's gratitude for condolences received since Sept. 11, Bush made a simple but spine-straightening point: "The time for sympathy has now passed. The time for action has now arrived." Such action, Bush informed the world body, includes freezing and confiscating terrorist assets, coordinating law enforcement and denying sanctuary or transit to terrorists.

"Every known terrorist camp must be shut down, its operators apprehended and evidence of their arrest presented to the United Nations," he said, adding, "These obligations are urgent, and they are binding on every nation with a place in this chamber."

Urgent? Binding? On every nation? With language like this, pointed enough to pierce the buffers of diplomatic doublespeak, Bush made it clear that just another U.N. resolution won't satisfy his resolve. "In this world there are good causes and bad causes," he continued, "and we may disagree on where the line is drawn. Yet there is no such thing as a good terrorist. No national aspiration, no remembered wrong can ever justify the deliberate murder of the innocent. Any government that rejects this principle, trying to pick and choose its terrorist friends, will know the consequences."

To nations still mourning the deliberate murder of the innocent, such moral clarity is an inspiration. To nations still resisting the pull of the coalition, it is a warning. The response? The General Assembly gave the American president one measly round of applause -- prompted less by Bush's call to arms, no doubt, than by his invocation of "a day when two states, Israel and Palestine, live peacefully together." That single burst of applause was probably muted by the president's assertion that Israeli-Palestinian peace is possible only "when all have sworn off, forever, incitement, violence and terror."

If fulfilled, of course, such an oath would likely leave Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat out of a job. Meanwhile, even as Secretary of State Colin Powell continues to meet with Arafat, Bush shuns him for not rooting terrorists out of his own domain -- a failing, it should be noted, that doesn't exactly give the General Assembly pause. A day after Bush's U.N. appearance, delegates warmly greeted the Palestinian Authority chairman with applause, interrupting his familiar tirade against the state of Israel -- which he fantastically accused of practicing "ethnic cleansing" and "state terror against the Palestinian people" -- with "frequent and loud applause," according to one news account.

What's going on here?

While anti-Israeli and anti-American speechifying have always been rallying cries at the United Nations, now isn't the time to ignore them. Bush may talk tough, but he's facing a formidable communication gap -- chasm, really -- which seems to defy the reach of cross-cultural understanding. The international community seems willing enough to fight against terrorism so long as it is defined by Al Qaeda gang -- and, implausibly, not to mention immorally, by the democratic state of Israel. This is not only absurd, it is anathema, potentially aligning members of the anti-terrorist coalition with such terrorist organizations as Hamas and Hezbollah. As National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice put it last week, however, "You cannot help us with Al Qaeda and hug Hezbollah." That, of course, is precisely what too many nations wish to do.

Bush has argued eloquently for action, but that doesn't mean there isn't more to be said to address this urgent dispute. It not only keeps Bush from meeting with Yasser Arafat, it also knocks the international coalition perpetually off-kilter. That is a fact, as unsettling as it is officially unmentionable, and there can be no solid foundation to the war on terrorism until it is well understood.

JWR contributor Diana West is a columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.


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02/12/01: If only ...

© 2001, Diana West