Bush’s opposition to Israel in ’91 hurt his bid for second term, and skewed U.S. foreign policy right

The American press’s obsequies for George H.W. Bush as a supposedly great one-term president have left out an important question: Did his opposition to Israeli settlements cost him a second term in 1992? A number of analysts have suggested as much over the years. And while the evidence is hardly slam-dunk, there is no question that taking on the Israel lobby hurt the president.

Bush openly opposed Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir over billions in U.S. loan guarantees that would be used to build illegal settlements in 1991. In doing so, he stated the American people would be behind him; but he violated the core principle of the Israel lobby, There must never be daylight between the White House and the Israeli government.

And Bush famously took on the lobby. During the battle, the president uttered his famous line, “there are 1,000 lobbyists up on the Hill today lobbying Congress for loan guarantees for Israel and I’m one lonely little guy down here asking Congress to delay its consideration of loan guarantees for 120 days.”

As the Times of Israel pointed out: “The notion of the president — leader of the world’s only super power — as ‘one lonely little guy’ going up against the pro-Israel lobby has become a staple of the narrative that Israel backers wield excessive power in the American political system.”

Bush won the battle: Israel had to put a slight curb on settlements for a short period. Israelis blamed Shamir for overplaying his hand with the U.S., and voted him out in 1992, The Washington Post’s Glenn Frankel wrote. But Frankel also assessed that Bush also “paid a price” for a stance that cast the Israel lobby as counter to U.S. interests.

“[The standoff] clobbered the Jewish community, left us in a state of shock,” one American Jewish leader told me later…

Bush paid a price… He got crushed in a small group of heavily Jewish precincts in states such as New York, New Jersey, Ohio and Florida in his November 1992 election loss to Bill Clinton.

Bear in mind: Bill Clinton ran to Bush’s right on Israel, supporting the settlements, and took the White House.

The argument that the issue turned the election is not convincing by the overall numbers. Clinton won by a resounding electoral margin, 370 to 168, and Bush’s gaining N.Y., N.J. and Ohio (two of which he’d won by big margins in ’88) wouldn’t have changed the outcome. But the Jewish vote cratered for Bush, and so presumably did Jewish donors. He had won 27 percent of the Jewish vote in ’88, only 15 percent in ’92.

Just as Jimmy Carter was said to believe that his stance on Israel cost him a second term, it is said that Bush held a similar belief. “Many believe that George H.W. Bush’s defeat in 1992 was the result of Jewish-American opposition fueled by his hard line against Israeli settlements under the Shamir government,” Michael Desch, the political scientist, wrote. His footnoted evidence includes informal comments to students by the former President himself, in a visit to the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M in February 2005, a visit at which Bush decried the power of AIPAC (the preeminent pro-Israel lobby).

Tom Friedman also said (not in the Times, but on an Al Jazeera broadcast), that the lonely lobbyist moment all but cost Bush the presidency and pulled American politics, including Bush’s son George W. Bush, to the right.

[A]s you know, President Bush the first stood outside the White House one day and said I’m one lonely man standing up against the Israel lobby. What happened as a result of that… is that Republicans post Bush I, and manifested most in his son Bush 2, took a strategic decision, they will never be out pro-Israel’d again. That they believe cost them electorally a lot.

So that pulled the American spectrum to the right. And it created an arms race with the Democrats, over who could be more pro Israel.

This brings up the neocons and the Iraq War disaster of Bush the Second– again, something the press has ignored in honoring George H.W. Bush. The neocons were devoted to Israel’s security, and helping Israel was an important driver of that war. Thankfully, NYT columnist Maureen Dowd, who had a long correspondence with the late president, insisted on talking about the late president’s passivity, and his son’s Iraq folly, during broadcasts yesterday. She said that George W. Bush went against his father’s implicit counsel on Iraq, and “ruined” his presidency.

Here’s Dowd on PBS News Hour last night:

[I]t was heartwarming to see W.’s incredible emotion toward his father [in his eulogy], but it was also kind of heartbreaking, because, you know, I have spent decades covering the family. And the father, you know, constantly worried that Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld were leading W. astray on the Iraq War, and the neocons were leading him astray. And I think W. didn’t want to seek his father’s advice or hear what he had to say about the invasion of Iraq.

And then it took years and years before he came around and realized his father was right, and distanced himself from Rumsfeld and Cheney. But, by that time, it was too late. It was the worst mistake in American foreign policy.

So, you know, to see all that emotion, you just wish that, you know, they had been more mentor and protege during the time when he needed it.

Dowd said a similar thing on MSNBC. The late Bush believed that the neocons “hijacked” George W. Bush’s presidency.

“I think he agreed with my analysis of the Iraq War, that it was a mistake to go into Baghdad and trump up this reason for war because he had decided not to do that,” Dowd said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

“But he couldn’t say that, except to his closest friends,” she added.

Dowd said that the former president, who died Friday at the age of 94, often sent notes to her over the years as the two developed a close relationship.

She added that the elder Bush also believed that the presidency of his son, George W. Bush, was “hijacked” by neoconservatives.

“He also agreed with me that Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld and the neocons hijacked W’s presidency,” she said. “And finally in the end he told that to Jon Meacham. He said they … had sort of ruined his son’s presidency.”

Cheney was George W. Bush’s vice president and Rumsfeld was his Defense secretary from 2001 to 2006.

Of course discussing these issues in any depth would involve addressing the power of the Israel lobby in U.S. politics. The press doesn’t like to do that because any discussion of Zionist influence is thought to be anti-Semitic. But that failure only empowers the lobby– which loses when it is called out openly, as it lost in 91 to Bush– and because the influence is so obvious that the silence fuels anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, about the lobby controlling foreign policy and the press.