The Bush doctrine’s fourth pillar — the debate continues

In World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism, Norman Podhoretz identifies the four pillars of the Bush Doctrine. They are: (1) rejection of moral relativism and commitment to fostering the spread of democracy in the Middle East, (2) treating terrorism proactively, on a global basis, and not as law enforcement issue, (3) willingness to engage in preemptive attacks against terrorists and terrorist supporting states, and (4) unwillingness to support a Palestinian state until Palestinian leaders “engage in a sustained fight against terrorists and dismantle their infrastructure.”

In this post, I argued that the fourth of these pillars has fallen in the course of Bush’s second term. Mr. Podhoretz used that post as the springboard for an article in the April issue of Commentary, in which he makes the case that President Bush has not reneged with respect to the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Now, in its July issue, Commentary has graciously printed the following reply by me:

I am honored that Norman Podhoretz has used one of my posts on “Power Line” as a foil for his argument that the Fourth Pillar of the Bush doctrine—namely, that before negotiations about the creation of a Palestinian state could take place, the Palestinians would have to undertake a sustained fight against terrorist groups and infrastructure—remains intact. I also take some comfort in Mr. Podhoretz’s guarded optimism on this score. But in the end, I am not persuaded.

As Mr. Podhoretz sees it, the present arrangement is that negotiations about a Palestinian state will go forward in advance of any sustained fight by the Palestinians against terrorism. Indeed, negotiations can proceed to the point of forging a permanent-status agreement on borders, Jerusalem, refugees, and settlements. However, President Bush promises, the fruits of these negotiations will not be implemented until the Palestinian Authority (PA) has taken the steps that originally were supposed to precede negotiations.

But this is not the original Fourth Pillar, and something of value has been lost. The PA now gets a seat at the table, plus the opportunity to negotiate for everything it desires, without having to take any steps to curb terrorism. We have forfeited whatever prod there might have been to the Palestinians by their being left out in the cold in the absence of meaningful action.

Moreover, Mr. Podhoretz does not dispute the prevailing assumption that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is the author of this revision. He does say that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert jumped on the idea “quickly and enthusiastically,” and he speculates that if Olmert had objected, Bush might have yielded to him. But if we were talking about a standing doctrinal pillar of American policy, it should not have been left to Olmert to save Bush from his Secretary of State (or not, as turned out to be the case).

Mr. Podhoretz is probably correct that serious harm will result only if the final negotiated settlement is implemented without the Palestinians having been made to do their part. Time will tell on this count, but there are legitimate reasons for concern. Once a final deal has been hammered out, the momentum for implementing it will likely be quite powerful, perhaps powerful enough to override a past utterance of an unpopular ex-President.

Moreover, Bush’s (former) precondition can also be subjected to quite a bit of interpretation. If the parties have succeeded in negotiating a final deal, and the Palestinians have made a few anti-terror gestures and arrested some of the usual suspects, who will be so churlish as to deem such actions insufficient? Not, in all likelihood, Barack Obama. Perhaps not even John McCain.

Mr. Podhoretz responded to my letter, and that of Rick Richman, by raising the intriguing possibility that the Palestinians aren’t genuinely interested in having a state, so that it may not matter whether Bush’s Fourth Pillar remains, or will remain, in place:

Paul Mirengoff and Rick Richman both make compelling criticisms of my argument, but anything I might say in response would only restate what I said in my article. So I hope they will forgive me if I rest my case without a final summation.

Except for this: the more I think about the Palestinians, the more I become convinced that perhaps the most famous thing ever said about them—Abba Eban’s crack that they “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity”—is mistaken. The assumption Eban was making, of course, and that the whole world shares, is that the Palestinians really do want a state of their own. But if so, why have they violently repudiated—not just “missed” but rejected with all their might—the three excellent chances they have been given to get one (by the UN in 1947, by Ehud Barak in 2000, and now by George W. Bush and the Israeli government itself)?

The explanation I find increasingly persuasive is that they prefer a situation in which they can blame all their troubles on Israel and America instead of at long last beginning to take responsibility for themselves. If that is indeed the case, then even if the Fourth Pillar should fall, no Palestinian state will arise out of the rubble in any foreseeable future. Where that leaves Israel is another question, and one to which I do not begin to have an answer.

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