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May 4, 2005
Guardian: The Neocons May Have Been Right After All

It isn't often that one reads an endorsement of George Bush's foreign policy in the pages of the British left-wing newspaper The Guardian, even with a string of caveats and wait-and-see admonitions. Today, however, the Guardian runs an opinion piece by Max Hastings warning the British Left that dismissing the efforts of Bush and the so-called neocons on transforming the Middle East risks ignoring the real progress that has been made:

The greatest danger for those of us who dislike George Bush is that our instincts may tip over into a desire to see his foreign policy objectives fail. No reasonable person can oppose the president's commitment to Islamic democracy. Most western Bushophobes are motivated not by dissent about objectives, but by a belief that the Washington neocons' methods are crass, and more likely to escalate a confrontation between the west and Islam than to defuse it.

Such scepticism, however, should not prevent us from stepping back to reassess the progress of the Bush project, and satisfy ourselves that mere prejudice is not blinding us to the possibility that western liberals are wrong; that the Republicans' grand strategy is getting somewhere. ...

Those who say that Iraqis are incapable of making a democracy work may well be proved right. But until we see what happens on the ground over the months ahead, we should not write off the possibility that the Iraqi people will forge some sort of accommodation. A premature coalition withdrawal promises catastrophe for them, not us.

This gives a taste of the literary ass-covering that Hastings attempts to convey as a warning to his political allies. He also includes many red-meat references to Bush's "simplistic" policies, "crass" execution of such, and the supposed naivete of the American administration. However, in the face of the successful elections of January and the belated formation of a democratic government in Baghdad, Hastings now has to admit that these blundering Americans may have done something that all of the decades of European sophistication and previous American neglect failed to produce: real change that actually attacks the root causes of dangerous radicalism.

Nowehere does Hastings hold to the leftist defenses as he does with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, on which he uses his rhetoric as a veritable Maginot line, and to similar effect:

Today, deprived of Iraqi support and with Syria also in retreat, the Palestinians are chiefly dependent for their own future upon international goodwill; a doubtful commodity. Israelis have always believed that their own security is best served by ensuring that the Palestinians are as weak as possible. Washington seems to acquiesce in this view.

Many of us, by contrast, believe that the best chance of peace lies in creating a settlement that offers a Palestinian state the chance of political, economic and social viability. Today the new Palestinian leadership is talking, because there is nothing else it can do. The litmus test is whether Israel accepts an ultimate commitment to withdraw from the West Bank. If this remains unlikely, it seems naive to suggest that peace prospects are improving, merely because violence is temporarily eclipsed.

Despite what Hastings believes, the issue has never really been whether Israel will fully withdraw from the West Bank. If nothing else, American pressure could guarantee that result if it actually meant that the Palestinians would stop making war on Israel. In this case, it's Hastings' turn to be simplistic and naive. The Palestinians were given that opportunity during the Clinton Administration's final months, when Ehud Barak risked his political career to offer them 95% of the territorial demands they made, excepting only Jerusalem and trading Israeli land for a few major WB settlements. Arafat declared a second intifada as an answer to Barak's offer.

The Palestinians do not want a negotiated peace for the West Bank. The Palestinians and their terror-based leadership want nothing less than the destruction of Israel and the exile of the Jews living there now. Until those circumstances change, the only peace possible will necessarily be temporary cease-fires designed to undermine the radicals and the bombthrowers until a Palestinian middle class with economic and social stakes in peace get strong enough to push the terrorists from power. So far, the Palestianians have shown little inclination to make that transition, electing Hamas and Fatah politicians who differ only in tactics, and not at all in the long-term aim of Israeli extinction.

Believing that Palestinians will suddenly embrace the existence of Israel if the world treats them with respect and kindness ignores the entire decade of the 1990s, when Bill Clinton hosted Yasser Arafat more often than any other world leader in an attempt to do what Hastings suggested. It didn't work, not because the world didn't treat them nicely, but because they didn't get what they wanted. When they stop wanting the elimination of Israel, then they will have peace.

That's the difference between European and supposed neocon diplomacy today. One deals in naive, wishful thinking, and the other understands the dynamic of power. Hastings makes the mistake of identifying the two incorrectly.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 4, 2005 5:54 AM

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