Bush administration is putting out all sorts of statements that
are presumably supposed to be reassuring. I just wonder who is supposed
to be reassured by some of these statements.
example, in domestic affairs, the Bushies want to reassure us that
they are firmly committed to leaving no child behind and the evidence
is that while they are increasing the overall budget by 4 percent
they are increasing education spending at the federal level by 11
percent. To a lot of people who voted for George W. Bush and think
that too much federal involvement and control is the chief problem
with government education these days this is far from reasssuring.
as it is not accompanied by any particular evidence that the Bushies
are intent on reforming the way federal education aid is done or
even have a notion that some changes might be desirable the news
might even be viewed as alarming. If the Bush administration is
planning to propagandize the same way the Clinton administration
did equating spending levels (or proposed spending levels in Clinton’s
case) with genuine commitment to an issue those few who hoped for
something resembling substantive change from this administration
are bound to be disappointed.
the international front, Secretary of State Colin Powell on the
Sunday chat circuit offered a statement that was presumably meant
to be reassuring in response to the latest tragedy from the Middle
East. Incidentally, there’s a phrase veteran journalists will recognize
as an “evergreen” or always appropriate. There will always be a
latest tragedy from the Middle East.
to Secretary Powell. “We have been actively involved from day one
of the Bush administration, just not quite in the way President
Clinton and his team have been involved.”
I can understand a desire to create some distance between a Bush
administration and the Clinton team. After all, even establishment
analysts have entertained the likelihood that Clinton’s hyperactive
efforts last summer to create a legacy in the Middle East might
well have been a contributing factor in the violence that has ripped
to shreds any confidence Israelis and Palestinians might have had
in one another.
is difficult for me to understand is how an assertion of active
involvement by the United States would be reassuring to anybody
outside the Washington Beltway. In some ways such a comment might
be reassuring only to that smaller circle of essential establishmentarians
inside the Beltway who actually care much one way or another about
WANTS TO BE AN IMPERIALIST?
Philbin might not have a hard time finding people who want to be
a millionaire, but it’s my observation that outside the fairly small
circle of those professionally involved in international relations
hardly any American wants to be an imperialist. While most Americans
will allow themselves to be manipulated into hating somebody like
Saddam Hussein or Slobodan Milosevic for a while, they really have
little desire to run the countries where those dictators hold sway.
an assurance from Colin Powell that the United States has really
been actively involved in the Middle East which seems to
contradict early press reports that the Bush administration was
determined not to get sucked into being the essential and necessary
element in any move toward peace in the Middle East does
not qualify asnews to make one deliriously happy. The early reports
even suggested strongly that Colin Powell himself was one of those
with no desire for a particularly active role in the conflict there.
the news assuming it’s true which might not be a safe assumption
that the Bushies have been at Middle East diplomacy from Day One
is to me much more alarming than reassuring.
IN THE PAST?
the last several months political violence, kidnappings and killings
have beset the Philippines, a country the United States used to
control directly and with which it still has numerous ties of trade,
friendship, memory and immigration. Neither Mr. Powell nor anybody
in the administration has felt constrained to reassure Americans
that the government is actively involved in that conflict. We mourn
and we hope for the best, but we don’t pretend that only the U.S.
government holds the key to an end of violence.
be sure, there are ties to Israel and to other countries in the
Middle East that are more than mere sentiment. But the notion that
active U.S. involvement in the increasingly violent and apparently
intractable conflicts of the region is utterly essential is difficult
one might have made a stronger case when the Soviet Union was a
clear and present menace and used the Middle East as a staging ground
in geostrategic struggles. But that struggle is no longer part of
the equation. And recent events provide fairly solid evidence that
the power of the United States to get the parties to sit down and
speak sweet reason one to another is extremely limited. In fact,
too much U.S. involvement is almost certainly counter-productive.
MORE MODEST PERSPECTIVE
might sound cold or standoffish to suggest that the deep-seated
disputes, resentments and mutually exclusive memories can only be
resolved between Israelis and Palestinians, that it is not the role
of the United States to fix things, whether through conspicuous
diplomacy or behind-the-scenes maneuvering. But the inescapable
fact is that the United States has not been able to impose peace
despite fairly constant involvement for decades.
realpolitik is the application of hard-nosed realism rather than
sentimental blather to international affairs, recognition of the
limited ability of the United States, even if it is the sole remaining
superpower and the indispensable nation, to fix long-standing problems
in other countries ought to be the first lesson of realism.
those who suggest a more modest perspective, a more modest agenda,
a less activist posture toward the rest of the world are often accused
of not being realistic, of not understanding the solemn responsibilities
that come with superpower status.
suicide bombing that targeted teen-agers in a disco in Tel Aviv,
followed by gun battles that broke a cease-fire on Monday, suggest
that the so-called leaders on both sides exert limited control at
best over events. I have no idea, from personal knowledge, whether
Yasser Arafat is clandestinely urging on and encouraging violence,
as many Israeli supporters insist, or if he simply doesn’t have
much control even over his own supposed Palestinian Authority. But
I suspect that the latter is an important factor.
we weep and wonder why such violence seems inevitable, it would
be healthy for U.S. leaders to consider that if Arafat and Sharon
can’t hope to control every aspect of the conflict, how much more
limited is American ability to control events. That recognition
should lead to reluctance to become more involved and eventually
to statements more sincerely in line with the kind of cautious disengagement
Mr. Powell seemed to be advocating when he first assumed office.
I thought the U.S. government was really reluctant to play an activist
role in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and was resolved not just
to speak but to act with appropriate modesty, I would be reassured.
I suspect most Americans would be reassured.
it seems rather obvious that Colin Powell is not all that interested
in reassuring me or thee. It seems more likely that his real target
for reassurance is the cadre of interventionists, media and interest
groups that have always had much more influence on foreign policy
than the mere people in this purported democracy.
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