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Bush on mission to dispel diplomatic ‘myths’

April 21, 2004

By Guy Dinmore, Financial Times
Published: Apr 21, 2004

When President George W. Bush gave his firm public backing to Israel on the twin issues of refugees and settlements last week, the White House said it was setting out to dispel whatit regarded as long-standing “myths”, both Palestinian and Israeli, by recognising “realities on the ground”.

But senior officials also signalled that these were not the only myths to be challenged by the administration’s revolutionary foreign policy, which Mr Bush has summed up as a mission, blessed by God, of “changing the world” – and making the US more secure in the process.

The list of “myths” that cloak contradictory realities in the world of diplomacy is endless. Senior US officials acknowledge that Cyprus and Kosovo are two such examples. Some analysts also interpret official statements to indicate a redefinition of the US’s “One China” policy to accommodate a more “realistic” assessment of Taiwan’s state of near sovereignty.

“It is not helpful for everyone to live on a mythology. We want a pragmatic approach,” said one of two senior administration officials briefing European reporters on Mr Bush’s endorsement of Israel’s plans to retain some settlements in the West Bank and denying Palestinians the right to return to homes left in 1948 in what is now Israel.

“Theological red lines” should be crossed if a model is not working, the official said. “Not one square inch of Palestinian land has been returned. What has this theology given us since 1967?” he said, explaining the trade-off that is intended to see Israel withdraw next year from the 42 per cent of the Gaza Strip its troops and settlers now occupy.

On Kosovo and Cyprus, US officials vaguely indicate that the US is ready to deal with “myths” there too.

They do not hide their support for the aspiration to independence of Kosovo’s overwhelming Albanian majority, a development that would undercut the most potent of Serbian “myths” – that the province embodies the Serbian nation even though few Serbs have lived there for decades.

Cyprus has come to the fore because of this Saturday’s referendum on reuniting the island. The Bush administration says it will not leave the Turkish Cypriots in the north “out in the cold” if the Greek Cypriots vote “no” and thus block the chance of the whole island becoming part of the European Union.

Some regard this as pressure on the Greek Cypriots to vote “yes”. But it may also be a real threat that the US could become the first state after Turkey to recognise the separate sovereignty of the Turkish Cypriots.

John Tkacik, of the conservative Heritage Foundation, says the Bush administration is also looking at redefining the long-standing “One China” formulation that underpins its relations with China and Taiwan.

“The administration appears to be poised to ‘clarify’ the ‘One China’ formulation away from the idea that the US actually accepts that Taiwan is part of China and to a position that ‘One China’ is a means not an end … and not an existing state of affairs,” he says.

To this end, Washington is putting greater pressure on Beijing to deal directly with Chen Shui-bian, Taiwan’s president, who was re-elected last month and is widely seen to be pushing the island towards independence.

James Lindsay, a former Clinton administration official who is now vice-president of the Council on Foreign Relations think-tank, says breaking down myths is central to White House tactics.

“The Bush revolution is very much on track, because it reflects what the president believes,” says Mr Lindsay. “He believes the coin of the realm in politics is power, especially military power – that the cardinal rule of statesmanship is to push, keep pushing, until someone pushes back. When they do, then you change course.”

On China, Mr Lindsay says the Bush administration would love to “break the mould”, but “ultimately the question is whether China has the ability to push back. I don’t know how they judge that.”

But Mr Lindsay notes the Chinese are distinct from the Palestinians and Serbs, who have clung to their myths in spite of military defeat.

“This administration is ideological but acts pragmatically,” he says. “They walk over people they can walk over.”

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