President George W. Bush appears to have held his ground in discussions with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Abdullah in Crawford, Texas. He refused to back down on his characterization of Prime Minister Sharon as a man of peace, and unequivocally said he “will not allow Israel to be crushed.” His first statement on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was, “The Palestinian Authority must do more to stop terror.” And the fact that Bush held a separate news conference without the Sa`udi crown prince strongly suggests that considerable disagreements separate the two leaders over the likely invasion of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
Less encouraging, however, was the large presence of former President Bush at the U.S.-Saudi meetings. Papa Bush, or “41″ as he is known in White House circles, had his own dinner and lunch meetings with Abdullah and other Saudi leaders, as well as a separate audience with the crown prince at Texas A&M University.
Recent political history strongly suggests that when Bush the Younger merges with Bush the Elder in the public eye, bad things happen to the 43rd president. This goes all the way back to the ill-fated New Hampshire primary in 2000, when Papa Bush hosted a rally for his son on the eve of the vote. That night he told the New Hampshire voters, “My son is a good boy.” The next day, W. was crushed by Sen. John McCain.
Papa Bush is a man of integrity, character, honesty, and family values, but he’s a bad political memory for American voters. He was completely out of touch with the pain of recession in the 1992 election year when he was defeated by then-Gov. Bill Clinton. And, of course, his pledge-breaking tax hike was a disaster among Republican and independent voters.
On foreign policy, many voters today recall that it was Papa Bush who failed to finish the job in Iraq during the Persian Gulf War. One of the key members of the axis of evil — Saddam Hussein — is still around and still causing terrorist troubles everywhere. Subliminally, Papa Bush’s failure to close the book on Saddam was an important factor in his defeat in 1992. Why resurrect that memory now?
More, when Papa Bush seemingly shepherds his son in the current Middle East conflict, it raises the issue of whether the current President Bush isn’t going after Saddam Hussein merely to avenge his father’s unfinished business. This thought mars President George W. Bush’s clear-headed logic in defining the war against terrorism as including not only the terrorists themselves, but those governments that harbor terrorists. “You’re either with us or against us” has nothing to do with his father’s term of office. It is all about world politics and the defense of American freedom and democracy today.
There is also the factor of growing Jewish support for Republicans today. The Wall Street Journal recently reported an unprecedented backing of GOP candidates at a recent gathering of the American Israeli Political Action Committee (AIPAC). “This president has an opportunity to realign the Jewish community in the same way FDR did after World War II,” said AIPAC director Matt Brooks. Well, not if daddy’s going to hang around.
Papa Bush was never regarded as a friend of Israel. He saw the world through the lens of oil politics. He and then-Secretary of State James Baker were viewed as clearly tilting U.S.-Mideast policy toward Saudi Arabia and away from Israel.
What’s more, the war on terror and the U.S. defense of Israel’s democracy is not about oil politics. OPEC today controls no more than 37 percent of the world oil market, compared to 55 percent 20 years ago. Today, the new Russia is an ally of the United States, and is challenging Saudi Arabia’s status as the world’s biggest oil exporter. Of course, the Saudis say they won’t use the so-called oil weapon. But if they cut us off it would be devastating to their market share and their already poor economy, as we would swiftly make contractual agreements with Russia, Norway, Mexico, and other oil-exporting friends.
By waging the just war against global terror, embracing Israel, cutting taxes at home, and performing with high character and moral purpose in each of his tasks, President George W. Bush has become an exceedingly popular man. This is the moment to showcase Bush the Younger’s strengths, not to remind people of Bush the Elder’s miscues.