The Bush Doctrine: No Peace. (And What’s the McCain Doctrine?)

As Laura Rozen points out , George W. Bush wasn’t just attacking Barack Obama in his Knesset speech dismissing negotiations with “terrorists and radicals” as appeasement. He was also attacking his host, Ehud Olmert, whose government was already engaged in indirect peace contacts with Syria via Turkey – the negotiations made public yesterday.

The contacts through Turkey reportedly began in February 2007. If so, the Olmert government may have been persuaded to act (or embarrassed into acting) by the reports published the previous month about Foreign Minister director-general Alon Liel’s back-channel negotations with Syria. The “non-paper ” – or unsigned framework agreement reached by Liel and unofficial Syrian negotiator Ibrahim (Abe) Suleiman is important reading, because it gives a sense of how an Israel-Syria deal is likely to look. One creative feature: in order to keep the Golan demilitarized and to prevent competition over Jordan River water, the Golan would be turned into a giant park after Israeli withdrawal – with free access for Israelis.

Liel has stressed – in a press briefing in January 2007, and since – that a critical part of any deal is a switch in Syrian orientation from pro-Iran to pro-West. That would necessarily mean dropping support for Hamas and Hezbollah. Syria’s secular regime wants the reorientation in order to maintain its independence, Alon reports. For Israel, such a deal would mean much more than removing the direct military threat from Syria. With Hamas and Hezbollah weakened, Iran’s power in our area would be sigificantly reduced.

But the deal requires a third party: Washington. Syria won’t and can’t risk dropping Iran without a new patron; otherwise it will be totally isolated in the region. And Bush’s Washington isn’t interested. Since the Liel-Suleiman talks were publicized, experts here have said that the main obstacle is the U.S.

In a fairly devastating report on the adminstration’s nonexistent role in Mideast peace efforts, the Washington Post says today :

For years, the Bush administration has resisted overtures from Jerusalem and Damascus to participate in revived peace efforts over the Golan Heights…

At his Senate confirmation hearing on May 1, James B. Cunningham, the ambassador-designate to Israel, said expanding peace talks to include Syria would be difficult. “We have taken the position that it is not very useful right now for us to be talking to Syria,” he said. As a result, over the past year Turkey has taken the initiative to launch shuttle diplomacy, a role once reserved for U.S. secretaries of state.

The administration, it seems, has now dropped its absolute veto. But it isn’t happy. Rozen reports :

The Bush administration, which knew the talks were taking place, even as the president was making his controversial remarks, offered reluctant support. “It is our hope that discussions between Israel and Syria will cover all the relevant issues,” a State Department official, speaking on background, told Mother Jones.

The operative word there is “reluctant.”

One administration objection to talking peace with Syria is that it would undercut the pro-Western government in Lebanon, and thereby hurt Washington’s efforts to promote democracy in the region. As I wrote recently in The American Prospect, the Bush policy has actually hurt the Siniora government by strengthening Hezbollah. Hezbollah knows that Syria could leave it high and dry; Washington doesn’t.

It’s true that the Siniora government has lobbied against an Israeli-Syrian deal. Instead, it wants the U.S. to protect it from Hezbollah. This is a clue to what Bush doesn’t get about our neighbor to the north. Lebanon provides a preview for those who’d like to turn Israel and the territories into a binational state. Instead of the state looking for foreign patrons against outside enemies, each community within it – or each faction within each community – looks for a foreign patron, usually hoping that the outside power will do its fighting for it. Syria is always a player, but it regularly switches clients. Back in 1982, Israel was seduced by Bashir Gemayel into thinking it could control Lebanon by backing his Christian faction. The results were disastrous. Siniora would like the US to make the same mistake, but Bush has no troops available. Perhaps he even understands why it would be a bad idea.

The only way to weaken Hezbollah in Lebanon, therefore, is to get Syria to cut it loose. But Bush is ready, at most, to stand aside and let Israel and Syria negotiate. The Bush doctrine, essentially, is “no negotiations, no recognition, no peace .” So the chances of cutting a deal before next January are poor. What happens after that depends – not exclusively, but significantly – on who’s in the White House. Obama believes in negotiating . The McCain Doctrine is the Bush Doctrine, shop-worn, failed and relabelled.

14 thoughts on “The Bush Doctrine: No Peace. (And What’s the McCain Doctrine?)”

  1. I can’t believe anybody takes Alon Liel’s bizarre fanatasies seriously. The whole world sees that the Iranian Shi’ite-HIZBULLAH-HAMAS-Syria axis is in ascendancy, whereas the US-Sunni-Lebanese gov’t-Israel axis is in decline. Why on earth would Syria leave a winning coalition that may have an A-bomb in a few years to connect up with a bunch of losers (as they see it)? For Syria to make “peace” with Israel would mean making concessions. However, it is important to recall that Israel’s own Prime Minister Olmert has said in the past that Israel can’t fight any more, he also said Israel is “doomed”, and Efraim Sneh said that once (G-d forbid) the Iranians have “the bomb”, Israelis will flee the country. If someone believes all this, they why should he make concessions? Assad could get the Golan Heights back for FREE, in addition to maintaining hegemony over Lebanon.

    Assad’s Alawite Baathist regime would be DESTABILIZED by making “peace” with Israel. The Alawites are a hated minority (traditionally allied with the Shi’ites, as I understand it) and keeping up the tension with the “Zionist enemy” is the traditional way to get the majority Sunnis in Syria to “rally ’round the flag” for the regime. Thus “peace” with Israel and alliance with the United States could lead to demands for reform which would endanger the regime hold on power.

    In any event, these talks are not serious. The two precendents where talks did lead to agreements (unfortunately, IMHO) were those with Sadat and Arafat. Those were conducted SECRETLY until the basic agreement was reached, then they were publicized. This is not the case now. This proves that the talks are only for “show”…to help Olmert survive and get Assad goodies from the US like money and American acceptance of Syrian hegemony in Lebanon. This is the reality, not Liel’s fantasies.

  2. Mr.Ben David You are delusional .A narrow mind is a waste.You find enemies coming out of the strangest places. Syria has a vested interest in getting out of this so-called axis.First and foremost Syria is a Sunni nation and the Sunni’s consider the Shia heretics. The government knows it runs big risks getting too cozy with Iran with it’s own people. Iran is a paper-tiger,whose third rate military is no threat to Israel and “his shortness” is detested by many Iranians.Further only 51% of the population is Persian and certainly not fully united behind Ahmadinejad and their oil-based economy is in decline

    Israel should never give up control of the Golan Heights but could have a shared control at the ridge line with Syria.Water is what Israel ,Syria, and Jordan need to talk about .I looked at Israel’s water resources ,and being from the Great Lakes,I deduced that you have big problems ahead.

    George W.Bush the grandson of Prescott the Nazi lover and son of GHW Bush the Saudi lobby’s”main man” in the US ,you are right, might give away the store because he wants some sort of BS legacy.Just maybe a new boy on the block might have some better ideas. A good compromise is where everybody gets something they want ,not everything they want.Olmert and Abbas are yesterday’s news and if Bibi gets in all Israel will have is war GOOD LUCK

  3. Mr Hilborn,

    The Israel-Egypt “peace” agreement is a gigantic fraud. Begin made the mistake of his life in agreeing to it. US Ambassador to Israel at the time Sam Lewis says Sadat told he he knew he couldn’t get the entire Sinai back but he was committed to reaching an agreement, yet in the end Begin totally capitulated. Everyone told about his “Polish lawyer’s mentality” in which he haggled over dotting every i and crossing every t in the agreement over terms Sadat never had any intention of carrying out. Begin, at the beginning of his term could have told the Egyptians that Israel would pull back a couple of miles in the Sinai desert while maintaining strategic positions in the Yamit area and the coast of the Gulf of Eilat down to Sharm el-Sheikh, and at the same time would encourage the US to give aid to Egypt.

    Now, I know what you are going to jump up and say…..”but there hasn’t been a war between Egypt and Israel since the agreement was signed in 1979″. Well, THERE HASN’T BEEN A WAR BETWEEN ISRAEL AND SYRIA ON THE GOLAN SINCE 1974 AND THERE IS NO PEACE AGREEMENT THERE. The reason there has been no war across the Israel-Egyptian frontier is NOT because of the peace agreement but rather, because Egypt hasn’t wanted a war. The existence of the “peace” agreement will not prevent the outbreak of war if Egypt want to go to war. Most wars between countries beging from a pre-existing state of peace.
    In fact, Egypt carries out a proxy war against Israel by supporting HAMAS in the Gaza Strip, just like Syria does with HIZBULLAH in Lebanon. HAMAS never would have taken power in the Gaza Strip without Egyptian acquiesence and Egypt contols the flow of weapons and explosives into the Strip. Of course, when the Americans remind Mubarak that they are giving him $2 Billion per year in aid and that they want to him do something about the arms flow, he will claim he is “too weak” (just like Abbas of the Palestinians is “too weak” to control terror activity by his own FATHAH’s Al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade) and they will then uncover an arms’ smuggling tunnel in front of the TV cameras to show everyone he is doing something to fight terror). Egypt has a efficient police-state apparatus that has suppress the population for 55 years and so you can be darned sure they know where all the tons of explosives and arms moving around the Sinai towards Gaza are.

    The choice for Israel on the Golan is NOT “peace or the Golan”, it is no peace with the Golan or no peace without the Golan. Unilke the massive failure of the political Right during the destruction of Gush Katif, I am hopeful that this time it will become clear to those who make the decisions in Israel that they will not be able to betray the Golan.

  4. Y. You sound like those neo/con creeps here in the US who never shouldered a weapon in combat or been in a firefight but want everybody else’s kids to cover their cowardly butts. If you are so gung ho to keep the fight going do it on your own nickel not the young men of yourcountry.

    Israel’s conduct in Gaza is nothing to be proud of .The BS we get from the official news agencies is so slanted you would think that Hamas has a real and effective military presence down there. What Gaza is ,is the biggest concentration camp in the world surrounded on three sides by the world’s best trained and equipped army.Do you honestly think that any people with any pride are not going to revolt against those conditions ? These are human beings eventhough you think of them as sub-humans.The whole separate state thing is just BS and the holding it out to the Palestinians is nothing but a cruel hoax.Go ahead and declare “mission accomplished ” and line the Palestinians up on the Jordan border and boot their asses out

  5. Mr Hilborn,

    I live in Israel and you don’t. I am very well aware of the cost of keeping this country going, far more than you are.

  6. Y. —

    Doesn’t the fact that Sadat sacrificed his life to come to an agreement and establish diplomatic relations with Israel suggest that there are key differences between Egypt and Syria? Also, while arms to Gaza do come through Egypt, what evidence is there that the Egyptian regime sponsors Hamas in the same way that Syria sponsors Hezbollah and effectively has been fighting a proxy war with Israel through them?

  7. Mr. Ben David ,You live in Israel and I don’t, that doesn’t give you “a leg up” on what’s going on when your so blinded by xenophobia and hatred that it colors your insight. Many foreign observers over the years more accurately saw the United States as it was, not as we thought it was such as Alexis de Toutville. There is something very beneficial in standing back and looking at the whole picture. Is emmigration of the best and the bright the cost you are aware of too? Cost is an amorphous term that means nothing unless it is spelled out with specifics .If your talking about your tax load I can see your point. If it is what you pay for gas or diesel for your small non-American cars ,I can see your point.If you are talking about the lack of stand alone individual homes ,I can see your point.If the fact that the government holds title to 85% of land ,I can see your point,so real estate and development is impinged.I can see your point.Dead and severly injured soldiers serve at the pleasure of the government and the people.That government and those people owe a duty to them not to waste their sacrifices because their COSTS were the ultimate

    We can thank Israel for sending so many of their ex-pats to Silicon valley and a number of top flight physicians to us including two of my own.My heart surgeon left not only for the money, but because of the unsettled strife, and yes he served.
    I can assume from your demeaning remarks that a) Begin as a lawyer and b) a Polish lawyer with a Polish lawyer mentality he wasn’t up to the task.I’m a lawyer and I have several Polish lawyer friends and I never noticed a Polish lawyer mentality among them as you describe.

    I live in the United States and I would never be so self-centered and arrogant as to say that an Israeli didn’t have as good or even a clearer insight into what is going on here than I just because I live here.In many ways living here can be a disability when trying to view my country’s conduct objectively because there is the quite natural inclination to be defensive and excuse it’s conduct.

  8. As the embodiment of two hostile, conflicting ideologies, two nation states squared off for over a quarter of a century, fighting two wars through client armies in the quest for regional domination.

    Today these nations are major trading partners and participating together in matters of mutual interest, like the negotiations to curb or coopt a member of the “Axis of Evil”.

    The change? Nixon went to China in 1972 and talked with his communist enemies.

  9. Mr Mackson,

    You ask legitimate questions. A few months before Begin came to power in Israel in 1977 there was mass unrest in Egypt due to increases in bread prices (just like today!) with a large number of people killed by the police. Sadat felt his regime was in danger so he decided making the agreement with Israel in order to open Uncle Sam’s wallet for him to get aid he felt was necessary in order to survive. In 1973 he was proclaimed as the greatest Arab military leader since Salah ed-Din due to his supposed “victory” (actually a military defeat) in the Yom Kippur War but the public credit he had achieved from this had already worn off within 3 years. However, the circus surrounding the peace agreement with Israel also wore off within another 3 years leading to another period of mass unrest in 1981 leading to another crackdown, finally culminating in his assassination in October 1981. I do not believe that Sadat had any intention of honoring any of the “normalization” clauses of the peace agreement which Begin spent so much time haggling over any more than Mubarak did. I am sure that if Sadat were alive today, the situation between Israel and Egypt wouldn’t be any different than the “cold war” that exists today.

    In order to understand how Egypt views the “peace agreement” we only have to look at how Israel is dealt with in the official media, where the genodical antisemitic progapanda is no less virulent than in countries like Syria, Saudi Arabia or Iran. Israel is presented as an enemy state and the Jews nefarious enemies of mankind. Egyptian state television broadcast a 40+ series claiming to prove the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” are true.

    Mr Hilborn apparently doesn’t have any understand of what
    I have been trying to say here. He thinks I am a “warmonger” The opposite is the case. The “peace camp” in Israel (the Left) has been dictating policy since Oslo in 1993 and they have brought about a big increase in violence against Israel and a rapid spread of virulent antisemitism around the world. This is because Israel is showing itself to be weak and unsure of itself. Their answer to every demand of the Arabs is “how much land do you want”? This encourages Arab extremism. The only way to stop it and reach an INFORMAL modus vivendi is to STOP the grovelling and the concessions. The Arabworld is carrying out a long-term war of attrition against Israel and Israel’s Prime Minister contributes to its encouragement by saying that “Israel is too tired to fight any more ” (said to Israel Policy Forum in 1995), “Israel is doomed” (said this past year) added to the Labor Party former Minister Efraim Sneh’s comment recently that “Israelis will flee the country once Iran gets the A-bomb”. The Arabs say “see , themselves say they are finished….a little more pressure, a little more terror and they will collapse completely”. Why should they make peace in such a situation. Only a gov’t committed to Jewish rights throughout Eretz Israel, committed to Jewish settlement throughout Eretz Israel, and flexibile enough to encourage peaceful Arab economic pursuits and hopefully a drawndown of the Israeli security presence in order to allow freer Arab movement (restricted today due to terror organization’s operations) will be able to really reduce the violence. “Peace talks” merely stoke it. Olmert said, after announcing his phony “peace talks” with Syria that “talking is better than shooting”, yet Syria, just like the Palestinians will talk and shoot (through its proxy HIZBULLAH) at the same time, as if Olmert can’t conceive of such a thing.

    Regarding HAMAS and Egypt, the Gaza-Egypt border is pretty short, the Egyptians know everything that is going on there and they exactly what weapons are flowing into Gaza and this is obviously done with their connivance. The Americans have even complained about it so Egpyt carries out a few televised “uncovering” of weapons tunnels in order to keep the American aid flowing while mainaining they are “too weak” to do anything about it.

  10. Y. —

    We seem to disagree on what happened in the past, and so on what conclusions to draw. Sadat approached Begin specifically because he felt he had “won” in ’73. Having acheived his military goals, he could make peace. It was for this specific reason, not the general unrest, that he was assassinated — he took quite a risk for this effort. I think this casts doubt on your assertion that peace talks encourage violence. After all, there was plenty of violence long before there were peace talks. While I would not want to ignore the propaganda you speak of, I don’t think that this alone makes the Egyptian peace treaty no different than the Syrian non-treaty.

  11. Mr Hilborn,

    The references to Begin’s “Polish Lawyer” mentality came from the Israeli media of the time. This was referring to his immersion in the details of what many believed to be matters of secondary importance in the agreement. Your hero Jimmy Carter was also known for this trait under a different term….a “micromanager”. I, unlike you, don’t know any Polish lawyers so I don’t know how this term got adopted, but Begin obtained a Law degree in Warsaw before coming to Israel.

    What you call “xenophobia”, I would call “caution”.
    For someone as “multicultural” and “sensitive” as you keep telling us you are, you certainly find it difficult to look at recent Jewish history in the way that I, for one, look at it. You are constantly telling us about your illustrious ancestor who was hanged in 1657 in Boston Common for his beliefs. Well, I had ancestors and numerous close relatives murdered much more recently, in the 20th century, by people who quite openly stated they didn’t like Jews and that they were going to do something about “the Jewish problem”. Thus, when the Arabs, Iranians and others, in their media, call for eradicating us here in Israel, I feel justified in being concerned about it. Now, you will respond that I am not seeing “the big picture” as you do. I really don’t know how to respond to that.

    Regarding your statement that I am filled with “hatred”, I can only say “GUILTY AS CHARGED”. I hate antisemites and I hate those who are trying to eradicate us. I am not a Christian so I have not been taught to “turn the other cheek”.

    Regarding your anecdotal stories of yordim (Israelis who leave Israel), I can only respond that I know more than one American Jewish doctors who left flourishing practices in the US to come to Israel. Yes, there are too many high-tec Israelis in Silicon Valley, and I know of a few of them, but the ones I know went there for economic opportunities and not because of the political situation.

  12. Mr. Ben David : You must also hate Jews for Peace and Sabeel and any group that does’t fit the mold set forth by the Rabbis out in the settlements ;to wit , that the Palestinians should accept the status of protected foreigners and have no say in the government of Israel or form a homeland with Jordan. Sure sounds like the former South Africa . Unfotunately the Palestinians don’t have a Desmond Tutu who taught his people to turn the other cheek and to forgive but not forget. I feel sorry for you that you can be so consumed by hate.I was taught that hate is usually self-destructive because it creates more hate.We Christians who believe that Jesus was a Jew who spoke to all of us, not some of us, that forgiveness ,even in the face of dying at the sword of those who hate us is a principle to live by.I’m sorry you can’t turn the other cheek or at least not have people who alledgely hate Jews have the upper hand by lowering yourself to their level.

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