Night in Ramallah
April 17, 2002
By Jeff Ritchie
As the past few weeks have plainly indicated, the grownups
may be back in charge at the White House, but they are grownups
who, at least on foreign policy matters, are a pack of gibbering
idiots. From the Bush Administration's abandoning several
important international treaties to its shocking ineptitude
in dealing with Muslin nations, an unbiased observer can't
help but wonder, "Who voted for this guy?"
First there came months of silence by the Bush Administration
regarding the intensifying violence in the Middle East. As
anyone with even a passing understanding of the region's politics
would know, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple
Mount in Jerusalem eighteen months ago was bound to incite
a reaction - and a violent one at that - from Palestinian
extremists who are beyond the control of Yassir Arafat.
Rather than continue the Clinton Administration's continuous
diplomacy efforts to diffuse the situation, the Bush Administration
simply walked away from the table. While the Vice President
was meeting secretly with ambassadors from the oil industry,
the largest oil-producing region in the world was about to
be plunged into chaos. Stunning in its irresponsibility, this
Administration's lack of a clear foreign policy continues
to take on an impressive body count.
The nadir came when officials from the European Union announced
in early April that the United States should "step aside"
as the chief peace broker in the region, and that the Bush
Administration's policies were no longer part of the solution.
It was a historic and stunning rebuke, particularly considering
the source: our closest allies were telling us to get lost.
In response, the President called a press conference where
he announced that the Secretary of State Colin Powell would
make a trip to Israel sometime the following week. What? When?
Was there a really good episode of "Matlock" on TBS that week
and Powell just couldn't pull himself away any sooner?
And when Powell finally arrived in Jerusalem (after side
trips to Morocco and Spain), his meeting with Yassir Arafat
came off only slightly less dignified than a slapstick comedy.
Powell announced his intention to visit Arafat at his besieged
compound in Ramallah, then retracted the announcement the
next day, only to rescind the retraction the day after that.
Despite the constant burnishing of his reputation since the
Gulf War, the fact remains that Colin Powell is nothing more
than a career military bureaucrat and his chief accomplishment
has been his ability to move up the chain of command at the
Pentagon. More adept at chatting up star-struck congressmen
than negotiating with grim combatants, Powell is quickly learning
that the Middle East is not the best venue for on-the-job
In the end, Powell was able to get the Palestinian Authority
to agree that they would end suicide bombings if the Israelis
would withdraw from the West Bank. And the Israelis agreed
to withdraw from the West Bank if the Palestinian Authority
would stop suicide bombings. Powell could have achieved the
same results from a five-minute telephone conversation and
saved a whole planeload of jet fuel.
And then there's Venezuela which - for the benefit of George
W. Bush - is a county in South America (that's the big land
mass just south of Mexico) and which also happens to be the
fourth-largest producer of crude oil in the world. After its
democratically elected President was ousted by a military
coup last week, the Bush Administration did what you would
expect from the world's leading democracy.
They responded positively and praised the Venezuelan military
for its actions.
It wasn't a coup, the Bush Administration explained, because
then-former-President Hugo Chavez had voluntarily resigned
his office. The fact that he volunteered because a bunch of
men armed with automatic weapons made the request was simply
not an issue for the Administration, which has never thought
too highly of legal elections in the first place.
And then events conspired to overtake the Bush Administration's
alleged "thinking" on the subject of Venezuela. Junior officers
in the Venezuelan military pledged their support to the ousted
President, and with 48 hours, Hugo Chavez was back in power.
This will doubtless make for some sublimely uncomfortable
moments for President Bush at the next meeting of the Organization
of American States.
During the 2000 Election, Bush's handlers insisted that even
though the candidate himself seemed like something of a dim
bulb, that really wouldn't make any difference, because he
would surround himself with top-notch advisors. Who serves
as President, they seemed to be saying, is not nearly as important
as who serves as the Assistant Under-Secretary for Middle
Eastern Affairs or the Deputy National Security Advisor.
Fair enough. But it still begs the question: who voted for
Jeff Ritchie is a writer an Democratic activist living
in Cincinnati, Ohio