Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Suskind's "Without a Doubt" (1)

Ron Suskind's 17 October New York Times article Without a Doubt is one of the best and most important pieces of writing on George W. Bush there has been. Not suprisingly, lots of bloggers have linked to it

Suskind's insight is not only into the nature of Bush's religious faith but also into how it interacts with other parts of his characater, and how crucial this has been to the evolution of his administration's policies

There's a lot in the article that repays careful attention. This post and the next one will touch on two things, among others, that struck me because of issues I am working on right now. The first is to do with security issues:

In the Oval Office in December 2002, the president met with a few ranking senators and members of the House, both Republicans and Democrats. In those days, there were high hopes that the United States-sponsored "road map" for the Israelis and Palestinians would be a pathway to peace, and the discussion that wintry day was, in part, about countries providing peacekeeping forces in the region. The problem, everyone agreed, was that a number of European countries, like France and Germany, had armies that were not trusted by either the Israelis or Palestinians. One congressman - the Hungarian-born Tom Lantos, a Democrat from California and the only Holocaust survivor in Congress - mentioned that the Scandinavian countries were viewed more positively. Lantos went on to describe for the president how the Swedish Army might be an ideal candidate to anchor a small peacekeeping force on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Sweden has a well-trained force of about 25,000. The president looked at him appraisingly, several people in the room recall.

"I don't know why you're talking about Sweden," Bush said. "They're the neutral one. They don't have an army."

Lantos paused, a little shocked, and offered a gentlemanly reply: "Mr. President, you may have thought that I said Switzerland. They're the ones that are historically neutral, without an army." Then Lantos mentioned, in a gracious aside, that the Swiss do have a tough national guard to protect the country in the event of invasion.

Bush held to his view. "No, no, it's Sweden that has no army."

The room went silent, until someone changed the subject.

(The incident has a new poignance at a time when the Sharon administration is pushing for a withdrawal of Israeli troops fromt the Gaza strip. Former US supreme commander in Europe Joseph Ralston argued in the 25 October Financial Times that "Nato must prepare for possible Gaza call-up". What would Mary Kaldor and the Human Security Doctrine crowd say to that?)

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