In responding yesterday to Hamas's victory, President Bush, a man who prides himself on clarity and disdains nuance, was, if I may coin a word, nuancing all over the place.
On the one hand, he praised democratic elections for letting voters send a message. "If they're unhappy with the status quo," Bush said at a news conference, "they'll let you know." Indeed.
But he also seemed to rule out dealing with Hamas if the militant group didn't change itself radically -- particularly its attitude toward Israel and terrorism. "I know you can't be a partner in peace . . . if your party has got an armed wing," he said. That's a good point about Hamas, though it raises interesting questions about Iraqi political parties that have links to armed militias.
Dionne embodies the notion that the perfect is the enemy of the good. It is he and his ilk who lack nuance. Who was going to win the Palestinian elections? Abu George al-Washington? There was no one. The corrupt remains of Yasir Arafat's party or the murderous thugs of Hamas were the only choices.
"But shouldn't Washington ask itself why it didn't take more dramatic steps," Dionne asks, "over a much longer period, to change the Palestinian status quo?
And this was going to happen when? Bush is not the person who elevated Arafat from terrorist to statesman. Everyone has known for years that Arafat was squirreling away the billions he received in foreign aid, much of it from the Europeans. No one turned off the spigot or demanded that Arafat live up to his agreements in the "road map" to nowhere. Bush was about the only Western leader who tried to hold Arafat responsible.
So Arafat dies and leaves a power vaccuum and in a little over a year's time, Bush was supposed to make dramatic changes that would usher in a stable democracy? Was he supposed to install a puppet in Palestine? If this were at all possible he'd be condemned throughout the world. No. He did what Sharon did: He left the Palestinians to their own devices and they chose the openly hostile Hamas over the two-faced Fatah. They made their bed.
As for Iraq, Bush never said it was going to be easy. But the Iraqi elections, which Dionne calls "a census to count members of warring ethnic and religious factions than a way of settling underlying disputes," have gotten those factions talking.
Dionne says democracy "requires the patient building of institutions and attention to detail." So how can he expect Bush to wave a magic wand and make everything all better?