If only Bush knew


Even if one disagrees with today’s editorial in The New York Sun raising questions about the Annapolis conference, the neoconservative newspaper deserves credit on at least one point: It avoids the intellectually dishonest argument advanced by many pro-Bush pundits that Condoleezza Rice, and not the president, is the proper address for criticism of the current U.S. diplomatic push (in fact, the piece doesn’t even mention the secretary of state).

Compare that, for example, to Bret Stephens or Frank Gaffney, who manage to vilify Rice without ever acknowledging that the buck stops with her boss.

Sure Rice is driving the current policy, but Bush knowingly handed her the keys to the car. If Elisabeth Bumiller of The New York Times is to be believed, Bush is well aware of Rice’s increasing anti-Cheney tendencies – the president has even joked about them:

More often in those years, Ms. Rice used her relationship with Mr. Bush to try to gain control over the national security process as well as two powerful men who drove much of the agenda in the first term, Vice President Dick Cheney and Donald H. Rumsfeld, then the defense secretary….

In recent months, Ms. Rice has gone so often to Mr. Bush to push him on diplomacy with Iran and North Korea that he has started to needle her that she expects him to talk to people like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the radical Islamist who is president of Iran, or Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader whom Mr. Bush has said he loathes.

“You want me to sit down with Ahmadinejad?” a White House official recalled that Mr. Bush had archly asked Ms. Rice. “Kim Jong-il? Is he next?” The White House official said that Mr. Bush had also taken to calling Ms. Rice “Madame Rice,” as in “Madame Rice, you’re not coming in to tell me that we ought to change our position?”

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 – and, 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 – he reportedly tends to personalize foreign policy. Is it so hard to believe that a president who looked into Putin’s soul and saw only happy colors, would decide that Mahmoud Abbas – as opposed to Yasser Arafat – was a man he could trust? Is it so hard to believe that a president 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 were once 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.

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