Last time I checked, the French were hailing down contempt on cowboy Bush for the simplisme of his Palestinian speech. "Canada Rejects Ouster Of Arafat," thundered The Guelph Mercury, more certain of our own Government's position than the Government was and meaning by "Canada" mostly Bill Graham, last seen genially beaming alongside Yasser in the old mass murderer's compound. In London, the BBC's World Affairs Editor John Simpson was anonymously briefed by "senior civil servants" who described Bush as "a bear of very little brain" and his Middle East speech as "puerile," "absurdly ignorant" and "ludicrous." Mr. Simpson declared that this marked a sea-change in Anglo-American relations.
Anyone wondering why the Bush Administration pays no attention to its allies should consider those remarks of Sir Hugh Sless-Auld-ffarquahar or whoever it was. I'll bet Sir Hugh had been polishing that "bear of little brain" crack (that's a Winnie-the-Pooh allusion, for you non-intellectuals) before Simpson showed up. But, frankly, the Bush moron gags have all been done. Sir Hugh cracking Dubya dummy jokes is like your gram'pa putting on a Travolta suit and doing Saturday Night Fever: Even if he could pull it off, it's still squaresville.
But that's Europe's -- and Canada's -- problem all over, isn't it? There's a terrible reluctance to change the script: the old jokes are the best, and so are the old policies. Obviously, a "senior civil servant" would find Bush's Middle East speech "puerile." The President gets up and announces that the present Palestinian leadership is worthless and he'd like to see a new constitution, independent judiciary, autonomous legislature ... How "absurdly ignorant." Why, all Bush's "ludicrous" speech will do is ensure that the Palestinians vote Arafat in by an even huger majority than he would already get.
For the benefit of any senior civil servants who read this paper, a short recap may be helpful:
December 6th, 2001: In the National Post, right-wing madman Mark Steyn writes that "Arafatism is a crisis for the Palestinians: if their cause remains mortgaged to the Chairman, their prospects of any kind of viable future are precisely zero."
June 24th: In a speech in Washington, President Bush says much the same thing.
June 30th: Arafat offers to meet Bush "anytime, anywhere," but Colin Powell says he's not interested, no time, nowhere, no how. The London-based newspaper Al-Hayat reports: "It appeared yesterday that U.S. efforts to replace President Arafat are gaining momentum. Some well-informed Palestinian sources revealed to Al-Hayat that some U.S. parties 'offered' several Palestinian personalities the post of 'prime minister' during the last few days."
July 1st: Arafat flunkey Saeb Erekat criticizes Arabs for "their strange silence on Bush's speech." President Mubarak, asked whether Egypt is working with Washington on replacing Arafat, says only that he has not "discussed that with U.S. officials." Four thousand demonstrators storm Arafat's Gaza headquarters chanting, "We want jobs! We want food!"
July 3rd: Two officials fired by Arafat refuse to accept their dismissals.
July 4th: Oman's pro-government Al-Watan newspaper runs a story headlined "Is Arafat The Weakest Link?"
July 6th: In the latest Arafat order to be ignored by his subordinates, Palestinian security officers tell the Chairman that the man he's appointed as their new leader is unacceptable.
July 7th: A source within the Israeli General Staff says it's concluded that "Arafat's stature is dropping so precipitously that there is no need for Israel to push him out of the territories." He will, they say, "be displaced within six months."
July 8th: The Jordanian magazine Al-Majd reports that Yasser Arafat is "expected to step down in the coming weeks."
July 10th: Egyptian, Jordanian and Saudi figures are said to be urging the Chairman to settle for a "ceremonial role," as the alternative position might well involve lying down in a plywood box.
Arafat isn't just toast, he's buttered and dripping marmalade. Bush knows it, Israel knows it, the Arabs know it, Hamas knows it, his Fatah cronies know it, and ol' man Yasser knows it. The only folks who haven't figured it out are senior British civil servants, Bill Graham, his European counterparts, and the Danish Prime Minister, who has requested an urgent meeting with the U.S. to get "the peace process" "back on track."
By "peace process", our Danish friend means "Oslo." Sorry, pal. That show's been cancelled. For the last two-and-a-half weeks we've been in the post-Oslo era, and the only thing that's "puerile" is those snooty civil servants who can manage no more insightful reaction to an extraordinary moment in Middle Eastern affairs than to make Winnie-the-Pooh cracks. The ground is shifting under your feet: If you want to wind up in the heffalump pit of history while the world passes you by, carry on. Canada and the Continentals are in danger of being the only guys in Yasser's Rolodex who still return his calls.
Best case scenario: Arafat runs in 2003 and is elected to a Palestinian Presidency stripped of all power -- like President Vossname of Germany or President O'Itllcometome of Ireland. Worst case scenario: carried out by the handles. To Bush, either solution will do. Some rare Palestinian "moderates" might yet emerge. On the other hand, some toxic Hamas honcho might carry the day. Doesn't matter: an unashamed terrorist would be easier to deal with than a frontman for terrorists.
To the realpolitik sophisticates, the Arafat equation was very simple: a strongman state was a better bet than a weak democracy doomed to collapse into chaos. But, in launching the intifada, Yasser blew up his own raison d'être. You can't warn "Après moi le deluge" when the deluge is already in full flood. As to the Euro-Canadian assumption that Bush, merely by advising them not to, will provoke the Palestinians into voting for the grizzled old loser, the hypothesis is a false one: when the election comes, Arafat will not be a candidate.
For Bush, it's a win-win situation. If the Palestinians elect the Hamas crowd, he can say, "Fine, I respect your choice. Call me back when you decide to put self-government before self-detonation." If they opt for plausible legislators, Bush will have re-established an important principle: that when the Americans sign on to nation-building they do so only to bring into being functioning democratic, civilized states -- as they did, against the odds, with post-war Germany and Japan.
But a question worth asking is: Why couldn't Chrétien or Chirac give a speech like that? How did it come about that the rest of the West reflexively stuck with an aging terrorist who cancelled the last scheduled elections? Which bear is really the one with the little brain? The one who in under three weeks has changed the entire dynamic of the Palestinian question? Or the one whose gags are as stale as his world view?
Europeans expend an awful lot of energy explaining why nothing can change: it's "absurdly ignorant" even to suggest getting rid of Arafat; it's preposterous to pursue "crackpot" plans for missile defence because it would "humiliate" the Russians. But Bush went ahead, and the Russians are fine about it, and Yasser's packing, and behind the scenes quite a few economic ministries around the world are hugely relieved Washington's killed Kyoto. If the EU doesn't have the will to justify its claims to global power militarily, it could at least try to do it intellectually, with a bit of fresh thinking about some of these issues. But instead the rest of the West clings to 1970s terrorists, 1970s missile treaties and 1970s environmental doom-mongering. Some allies: never mind walking the walk, they can't even talk the talk.
©2002 - National Post