The whole world is against him

Editorial

Haaretz

Chishvan 3, 5765

In 10 countries worldwide, including Israel, the results of a public opinion poll commissioned by leading newspapers in advance of the American presidential election were published on Friday. The results were surprising in their one-sidedness: In nine countries, public opinion about President George Bush was negative, generally by a large majority; only one country, Israel, liked Bush - again by a large majority. Both aspects of this phenomenon are interesting: the negative attitude toward Bush, and Israel's bucking of the international trend.

Bush arouses opposition both because of his style - which is perceived as stammering, blunt, provincial and power-driven, whereas other American politicians (Bill Clinton, John Kerry) have been able to exude personal charm - and because of his foreign and defense policy. At the center of this policy stands America's global supremacy, which dwarfs Washington's traditional allies and substitutes preemptive strikes for readiness to respond to attacks. Support for the Bush administration after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks survived the military operation against Al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan, but dissolved when Bush insisted on moving the center of his war on terror to Iraq, based on assumptions of which some have proven false.

This is the approach of various countries in Europe, Asia and Latin America. The circumstances vary from country to country, but overall, one can identify in all of them a mixture of interests, inclinations, prejudices and transparent media slant.

A completely different mixture was created in Israel. Israelis loved Clinton, even though many opposed the Oslo process that he led, while others were angry at him for wasting precious years because of personal caprices (the Monica Lewinsky affair). Like Clinton, and despite certain relatively minor differences in their policies, his successor radiates friendliness toward Israel. He supports Israel's struggle against Palestinian terror and holds Yasser Arafat responsible, whether passively or actively; at the same time, he presents a vision of an agreement with a moderate and democratic Palestinian state. To other countries, Iraq may look like an unnecessary entanglement. To Israel, it means the removal of a serious threat that was actualized in 1991, that could include chemical and biological weapons and that was liable to be renewed once the sanctions regime weakened. Without Iraq as an enemy, there is no eastern front, and Israel has a better chance of reconciling with all its Arab neighbors and of isolating its other dangerous enemy, the Iran of the Islamic fanatics.

Israel's gratitude to President Bush does not contradict the traditional affinity of a large majority of American Jews for the Democratic Party. Moreover, it is likely that after January 20, 2005, when the next president - whether a second-term Bush or a first-term Kerry - is sworn in, there will be a fundamental continuity in American policy toward the Middle East. Nevertheless, it must be hoped, for Israel's sake as well, that the next American administration will succeed in drawing its allies closer and healing the rift that has emerged in the international democratic camp.