Peace in the Middle East is one of the world’s great desiderata, and the Bush administration professes to want it. Why, then, asks former Baltimore Sun correspondent Matthews, is the prospect for peace so dim?
In part, he writes, the answer lies in missed opportunities. Even as governor of Texas, Bush was eager to be involved in regional politics, and early on he befriended Ariel Sharon, whom he considered both effective and capable of being influenced. Yet, Matthews continues, in both terms as president, “Bush engaged in the Middle East peace process episodically and without success,” ineffectiveness complicated by feuds among his staff over diplomatic and strategic priorities and by the decision, made after 9/11, to snub Yasir Arafat and refuse to admit the Palestinian Authority into deliberations. In part, that decision was determined, Matthews suggests, by calculating the pros and cons of the Jewish vote back home; the Jewish electorate, he writes, “is too small to be decisive in most national elections” but nevertheless has proved important in the swing states, and Bush’s father, as president, lost his bid for reelection in part, perhaps, because he lost that vote soundly. Bush II took it upon himself to cultivate close relations with Sharon at the expense of any other, against warnings by Colin Powell and others; one senior State Department spokesperson tells Matthews that the post-9/11 White House gave Sharon “a lot of slack in areas that we could have cared about, but there wasn’t anything to be gained by it,” one of those areas being, it seems, the Palestinians. Add to that Bush’s preferring doctrine-driven neocons such as Paul Wolfowitz and Elliott Abrams to more balanced views—“Had Condi understood the region more, she never would have accepted [the appointment of Abrams],” Brent Scowcroft remarked—and the little matter of the war in Iraq, it is no surprise that peace remains a distant possibility.
Valuable reporting on a profoundly important question.