Time for some context on the current turmoil in and around Israel. This passage from Ron Suskind’s The Price of Loyalty has special resonance given current events. The scene is the White House Situation Room in January 2001, where Bush is meeting for the first time with his National Security Council, 10 days after taking the oath of office. Bush has just asked who in the room has met Ariel Sharon:
He’d met Sharon briefly, Bush said, when they had flown over Israel in a helicopter on a visit in December 1998. “Just saw him that one time. We flew over the Palestinian camps,” Bush said sourly. “Looked real bad down there. I don’t see much we can do over there at this point. I think it’s time to pull out of that situation.”
And that was it, according to [Paul] O’Neill and several other people in the room. The Arab-Israeli conflict was a mess, and the United States would disengage. The combatants would have to work it out on their own.
[Colin] Powell said such a move might be hasty. He remarked on the violence on the West Bank and Gaza and on its roots. He stressed that a pullback by the United States would unleash Sharon and Israeli army. “The consequences of that could be dire,” he said, “especially for the Palestinians.”
Bush shrugged. “Maybe that’s the best way to get some things back in balance.”
Powell seemed startled.
“Sometimes a show of strength by one side can really clarify things,” Bush said.
With that, the rest of the meeting was devoted to Iraq.