Welcome to the Bush wars, redux CORRECTION


The wars are over, let the wars begin.

Washington is a happy town for Democrats. Barack Obama’s landslide victory, the sweep of both houses of Congress – heck, even Al Franken’s likely unlikely victory in Minnesota – it’s all making for one long party. The mall was jammed today with Obamaniacs aching for a peek of Bruce Springsteen, Bono, Renee Fleming (yes, opera has that kind of pull.) And the man himself made a surprise appearance.

It’s a bipartisan bonanza – my spies tell me that Republicans angling for a historical moment are not exactly shy, and Obama himself reached out to conservatives last week. President Bush delivered his valedictory, took off for one final weekend at Camp David, and that’s that.

Not quite: The Bush legacy wars are beginning.

Richard Perle, the "prince of darkness" blamed (he says wrongly) for shaping the world view that brought us the Iraq war, has already delivered a salvo defending the Bush legacy – at least Bush’s first term legacy – in the National Interest. At National Review, former Pentagon flack Larry Di Rita does the same for his old boss, Donald Rumsfeld.

We (we politically obsessed Jews) won’t be spared. The others side of the argument was in evidence Sunday morning when Martin Indyk, the Saban Center director  who helped lead peace-brokering during the Clinton administration, spoke at a National Jewish Democratic Council lunch and outlined what he believed would be the priorities of an Obama administration.

Indyk – who worked the community as a Jewish surrogate for Hillary Rodham Clinton, the secretary of state designate, when she was running against Obama in the primaries – has been circumspect until now, taking care to parse out praise for Bush and Condoleezza Rice when he believed it was due. It’s the unspoken rule of think-tankers: Don’t spit in the prevailing wind, if you want access.

No more.

"Speaking as a Washingtonian, it’s been eight years that I’ve felt I’ve had a hoop boot on my throat, so I’m particularly glad that we’re back," he said to appreciative laughter.*

Obama, Indyk said, will be engaged "from day one," unlike Bush whose strategy until a year ago, Indyk said, "was to exhort the parties to do it themselves – it doesn’t work that way."

Indyk was unsparing of Bush’s pan-community Jewish defenders. "In our community, there was a collective loss of common sense," he said. "How many times did you hear that George W. Bush was the best friend of Israel? I think that’s a fundamental misunderstanding of the U.S. role."

"Abandon this notion that ‘Oy, Gevalt, the peace process means pressure on Israel,’" Indyk said. No peace treaty has come about "without the active intervention of an American president. The alternative is now before our eyes."

Peace-making needed an active U.S. involvement; Bush’s mistakes, Indyk said, particularly the Iraq war "opened the way to Iran to spread its influence in the region."

The argument that Bush’s bear hug was a little too close for Israel’s good is not unfamiliar – Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, rolled it out last May. But its evidence post-election shows that it was not just campaign rhetoric: Democrats plan to make a strategy of deeper involvement and of calling Israel on its perceived missteps.

A revived peace process would mean "a real settlement freeze," Indyk said, without the usual ellisions of "natural growth." "It can be time limited, it can be limited until there’s agreement on the borders of a Palestinian state, but it needs to happen because without that, it will be very hard to show the peace process is credible and without that, it will be hard to show that Israel lives up to its commitments."

He rejected reports that Obama would engage on any level with Hamas in the wake of the Gaza Strip war. That "would be of great benefit to Hamas and all those behind them," he said, and would undermine moderates.

Obama, however, would not oppose – as Bush had done – efforts behind the scenes for Hamas and Fatah to reconcile, Indyk said. National unity was a must on both sides: He predicted that Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu would win, and would govern with a central, secular coalition, joined by Labor and Kadima.

Indyk was less optimistic about the clash that overhangs the Israeli-Arab conflict: Iran, he predicted, is likely to have all the components of a nuclear weapon in place by the time Obama completes his first year in office.

Also making appearances at the NJDC event were Susan Turnbull, the Democratic National Committee vice-chairwoman who is completing her term; U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Florida Democrat who is adding DNC vice-chair to her manifest responsibilities (she’s a deputy whip and one of the party’s major fund-raisers); Franken, the putative senator from Minnesota; and Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul and Mary), who led some aging (and not so aging) liberals in a stirring Israeli-American rendition of "This Land is Your Land" (you try rhyming California/New York Island with Jerusalem/Tel Aviv.)

*Martin Indyk called in to make the correction. And here I thought "hoop on my throat" was a colorful Australianism

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