Memories of W., &c.

Tested by Zion, by Elliott Abrams (Cambridge University Press, 352 pp.)


In a column earlier this week, I mentioned a piece I have in the current National Review: a dual book review, if you will. The main object of attention is Elliott Abrams’s new memoir, Tested by Zion. I also have some paragraphs on a book that is about him, in part: Little Red: Three Passionate Lives through the Sixties and Beyond, by Dina Hampton.

You are familiar with Elliott. For one thing, he has been a contributor to NR and National Review Online. What could be more important? But he has also been a prominent foreign-policy player for 30 years. He was an assistant secretary of state in the Reagan administration: for international organizations, human rights, and Latin America. (That is not one job. Those are three different jobs, which he held consecutively.) He was caught up in the Iran-contra scandal. He wrote a book about it, whose title gives the crux of the matter: Undue Process.

So, he served all eight years of Reagan — and all eight years of George W. Bush. That service was in the White House. Essentially, he was “the White House Middle East guy,” as he writes. He dealt with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in particular. That is what his new memoir is about.

Sometimes, here in Impromptus, I give you a “dividend.” Tell you what I mean. I used to say, “A milkshake comes in a parfait glass, often, and then there is this wonderful spillover in a silver canister. Well, the parfait glass is my piece in the magazine [whatever the piece was]. I will now give you the spillover, here in Impromptus.”

Readers wrote me — bartenders, in particular, I think — to say, “That ‘spillover’ is called a ‘dividend.’”

Anyway, a dividend — some notes on Abrams’s memoir, dribs and drabs that did not make their way into the magazine review. Cool?

Toward the beginning of his administration, Bush (George W.) met with Ariel Sharon, the prime minister of Israel. Sharon was trying to impress on the new president the Israeli situation. He said (this is a paraphrase), “What would happen if you were governor of Texas and Texas got hit with missiles coming from Mexico? In an hour, there wouldn’t be a Mexico, right?”

Bush said, “No — 15 minutes.”

Bush once said, “You know, when I hear the Europeans talk about Israel, they just sound anti-Semitic.”

He must have heard the same Europeans I have!

This is interesting — it’s all interesting, of course. Bush said, “I do believe Ariel Sharon is a man of peace” (which he was). (“Is,” I should say.) As Abrams relates,

This comment infuriated the Palestinian leadership, but they were not alone in reacting negatively: According to White House scuttlebutt, the president’s father, George H. W. Bush, who seldom called him on policy matters, telephoned to complain vociferously about the president’s choice of words.

Abrams tells us something about Bush’s style of speaking: He talked the same way to “everyone who came through the Oval.” Most of us talk differently to foreigners whose English may be uncertain: We slow down, we simplify. Bush charged ahead, saying things like “You ready to saddle up? That other guy: He’s just lyin’ in the weeds.” Someone else would be “all hat and no cattle.”

When his interlocutor was confused, the president would smile and translate his words into more standard English.

I quote this in my review — it is part of the parfait glass — but I can’t resist repeating it here, in the dividend.

An Israeli was explaining to Bush that his countrymen were nervous about a Palestinian “right of return.” Bush, totally comprehending, said, “No sh**: ‘Here come three million people.’”

I say this, too, in my review: Bush was pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian. He was pro-Palestinian because he wanted them to live in decent, non-tyrannical conditions — not in yet another dictatorship and terror state. He was pro-Palestinian enough to want them to have their human rights.

One could go on, and on . . .

Colin Powell is not a hero of this book, or of yours truly (as regular readers know). But I got a kick out of something he did at the U.N. in 2002: Powell “served as defensive tackle, literally pushing Arafat back when he tried to get into a photo with Bush as the president moved down a General Assembly corridor.”

(Arafat was the most frequent foreign visitor to the White House during the eight years of Clinton. It was much different under W. When Mahmoud Abbas became leader of the PLO, W. laid out the red carpet for him, hoping a new day would break.)