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Why won’t hawks blame Bush?

NEW YORK (JTA) – What’s a conservative to do if he views the Annapolis peace push as a dangerous exercise in foreign policy naivete but still clings to the image of George W. Bush as Israel’s best friend and the only Western leader who knows how to get tough with Islamic extremists?

Blame Condi.

Bret Stephens, the foreign affairs columnist for The Wall Street Journal and the former editor of the Jerusalem Post, managed to produce two columns slamming U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her “pointless Middle East conference.”

Frank Gaffney, a former Reagan-era official in the Pentagon, warned that “Ms. Rice’s conclave is shaping up to be a gang-rape of a nation on a scale not seen since Munich in 1938.”

Like many of their ideological comrades in arms, these hawkish commentators manage to vilify Rice without ever acknowledging that the buck stops with her boss. But in truth, President Bush’s willingness to follow Rice’s advice is no accident. The president is said to reward loyalty and value a sense of intimacy when it comes to advisers.

On both counts, Rice reportedly fits the bill as much as anyone.

Of course, the same also is true of Bush’s approach to the world, which is marked by a tendency to personalize foreign policy.

It is on this point that many pro-Israel activists, especially Republican ones, fundamentally misunderstand the roots of Bush’s unflinching support of Israeli counterterrorism measures during the height of the intifada.

In his 2003 ode to the president, “The Right Man,” former Bush speech writer David Frum argued that Bill Clinton was “the most philo-Semitic president in U.S. history.” According to Frum, Bush did not share this obsessive interest in Israel and Jews – for him, the deciding factor was Yasser Arafat.

The turning point, Frum wrote, came in January 2002, after Israeli naval forces seized a weapons-filled boat en route from Iran to Gaza, the Karine A. More upsetting to Bush than the obvious implications of an emerging Iranian-Palestinian terrorism axis was Arafat’s denial of any involvement in the arms shipment.

“Bush does not lie to you. You had better not lie to him,” Frum wrote. “The Karine A incident finished off Arafat in Bush’s eyes.”

In Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, on the other hand, Bush consistently has said that he sees a man who can be trusted. Is this so hard to believe for a president who looked into Putin’s soul and saw only happy colors?

Along similar lines, is it so hard to believe that a leader who bet his entire presidency on building a stable democracy in Iraq would decide that it’s within the power of the United States to play midwife to a democratic Palestinian state?

Now throw in the fact that Abbas’ reformist prime minister, Salam Fayyad, is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin – he and Bush once were reportedly seen exchanging the Longhorns’ famous index finger and pinkie salute – and it’s quite easy to imagine that Rice and her boss are on the same page when it comes to the overall goal of pushing for a two-state solution by the end of 2008.

This article was adapted from JTA Managing Editor Ami Eden’s blog, which can be found at blogs.jta.org/telegraph.

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