The Los Angeles Times has a good reminder from Robert Satloff about President Bush's role in the current state of war between Israel and the Palestinians. He did not, through lack of involvement, cause the current state of violence:
"When President Bush came to office in January 2001, the Palestinian uprising against Israel was 4 months old, and the promise of the Camp David peace talks was a distant memory. The uprising already had morphed from a popular revolt to a full-scale guerrilla war. It was clear then that Yasser Arafat had violated the basic foundation on which the entire Oslo edifice was constructed: renouncing armed struggle."
The same people who are blaming Bush for not pulling the Israelis and Palestinians apart and giving them a good shake are the same people who believed round after round of diplomatic talks were the route to lasting peace. Even after overwhelming evidence that the Palestinian Authority was not negotiating in good faith and continued its involvement with the suicide bombers, high-minded opinion makers around the world had only one solution: the United States should force both sides back to the table. Arafat counted on world opinion to force Israel to give him everything he wanted - and they almost did. Israel offered him a sovereign state and he turned it down. That should give the world some idea of the size of his ambitions.
Not that total inaction on Bush's part is a good thing. Outlets like the Washington Post are also reporting on Bush's performance, comparing it negatively to his leadership of the war with Afghanistan:
"Bush's instincts to see the war on terrorism as one of good vs. evil served him well after Sept. 11, as he rallied an international coalition for a military campaign in Afghanistan that dislodged the Taliban regime and at least dispersed the al Qaeda terrorist network responsible for the attacks on the United States.
"But as he has confronted the escalating war between Israel and the Palestinians, Bush has sounded anything but certain, the black-and-white rhetoric of his war on terrorism replaced by what administration critics have described as hesitancy, inconsistency and ambiguity."
Conventional wisdom has it that this ambiguity comes from trying to support Israel and secure Arab allies for a war against Saddam Hussein at the same time. That, we hear, puts us in a terrible bind. But need we bind ourselves? Barbara Lerner has an interesting answer to that in her National Review Online column "Who Needs the Arabs?":
"That wisdom is summed up in the self-defeating non sequitur that could be heard, hourly, on every newscast in America as Vice President Cheney toured the Middle East: To make war on Iraq — repeat after me — 'We need Arab allies.' There are two main problems with this journalistic cliché: first that it isn't true, and second that it's against our interests. Pack journalists offer four reasons for it: because without Arab allies, we'd be at war with the whole Muslim world; because we need military bases in Arab lands; 'stability in the Middle East'; and Arab oil. All four are false."