Pundit Central

Liberty Leading the Pundits

Issue 1 is fighting in the Middle East. Issue 2 is the ousting of Slobodan Milosevic. Issue 3 is the presidential race.

Astoundingly, foreign policy takes center stage just three weeks before the election. (Most of the talk shows reviewed by this column pay scant attention to foreign affairs–the exceptions being The McLaughlin Group   and Washington Week in Review.) The Clinton foreign-policy team hits four of the five Sunday shows: Secretary of State Madeleine Albright appears on NBC’s Meet the Press   and CNN’s Late Edition, while National Security Adviser Sandy Berger appears on ABC’s This Week   and CBS’s Face the Nation. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak appears via satellite on MTP and FTN.

Barak tells MTP that if Yasser Arafat does not stop Palestinian rioting within 48 hours, he will consider the peace process dead. He blames Arafat for starting the battles and says an inflammatory Jerusalem visit by conservative Israeli leader Ariel Sharon is a red herring. Meanwhile, Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi tells TW that Sharon is a mass murderer and calls the rioting an understandable uprising against an occupying Isreali army. Pundits are increasingly pessimistic about the chances for peace. Tom Friedman (WWIR) says that President Clinton should make one last attempt at peace, then give up. The problem may be insoluble by diplomacy, Friedman concedes. George Stephanopoulos (TW) blames Arafat for not taking Barak’s generous offer at the recent Camp David peace talks. George F. Will (TW) adds that since Arafat won’t take an offer from “the most dovish government in the history of Israel,” the talks should be stopped.

Albright fends off questions about whether the United States should pressure the new Yugoslav government to extradite Milosevic to the Hague for war-crimes trials. She maintains that normal relations with Yugoslavia cannot occur until Milosevic is tried but that the new government should be given time to consolidate power. When asked if George W. Bush’s debate remark urging the Russians’ involvement in Yugoslavia was proved correct by events, Albright and Berger defend Al Gore, arguing that at the time of Bush’s remark, the Russians were still siding with Milosevic. (Joe Lieberman tells LE the same thing.)

Most pundits agree that Gore won the debate technically but lost it politically. That is, he won on issues but came across as arrogant. The Bush team reiterates this spin on the Sunday shows: Karl Rove tells MTP that Gore acted obnoxiously, and Karen Hughes ( Fox News Sunday) harps on Gore’s exaggerations. (Gore adviser Tad Devine [FNS] calls them “minor misstatements.”) Stephanopoulos calls these tactics by the Bush team clever, and Al Hunt (CNN’s Capital Gang), Sam Donaldson (TW), and Paul Gigot (PBS’s NewsHour With Jim Lehrer) accuse Gore of wanting to be “the brightest boy in the class.” Susan Page (LE) argues that since neither candidate shed his defining stereotype during the debate (Gore as stiff, Bush as stupid), the stakes are higher for this week’s face-off. Several pundits praise the civility of the vice-presidential debate, but most agree it will make little difference on Election Day.

LE is the only show taped late enough to cover the second New York Senate debate. The verdict: Neither candidate won, which is good news for Hillary Clinton, whose lead is substantial. Susan Page says the race is over, and Steve Roberts notes that for Rick Lazio to win, a million Gore supporters will have to cross party lines and abandon Hillary. Tucker Carlson complains that Hillary has proven to be an unreconstructed leftist, but Roberts argues that New York voters are closer to Clinton’s liberalism than they are to the Newt Gingrich-conservatism represented by Lazio.

George F. Will, Art Critic
Attempting to lend his talk-show chatter some intellectual heft, George F. Will compares a recent photograph from Yugoslavia (nearly identical to this one)–of a Serbian man waving a flag from a balcony of the parliament building–to the flag-waving from atop the Paris barricades in the musical Les Miserables. That climactic Les Miserables scene, Will notes, was modeled on Delacroix’s painting, Liberty Leading the People. “This is European history repeating itself,” Will concludes, “this time splendidly.” But wait: Isn’t hoisting your nation’s (or party’s) colors a natural thing to do after a revolution? Is Will arguing that triumphant flag- waving was inaugurated by the Jacobins, much as the moonwalk was inaugurated by Michael Jackson? And how is Milosevic’s resignation anything like the bloody French Revolution? In any case, the historical image most strongly evoked by the Belgrade photograph is not Liberty Leading the People (which features a woman and no buildings), but Yevgeny Khaldei’s Raising the Red Flag Over the Reichstag, the famous May 1945 photo of a Soviet soldier waving the hammer and sickle over Berlin. Now why didn’t Will make that comparison?

Last Words

We, as human beings, together with the whole world, are mourning our dead, and we can understand the pain and sorrow of our neighboring Palestinians. I can even understand the shock that goes through the whole world when we see a 12-year-old [Palestinian] kid caught in a cross fire and ultimately killed. I can understand how these views are choking and leaving an imprint on the minds of any civilized human being. At the same time, I should tell you that leaders should be able to see through the screams and identify the real sources of violence. This wave of violence had been imposed upon us by the will of Arafat. … If he chooses under these circumstances to use violence, it means that somehow, on a most profound level, he prefers confrontation rather than peace–and he has to bear the responsibility for it in the minds of honest people all around the world.–Ehud Barak, Israeli prime minister (MTP)To really bring calm to young people demonstrating is different from ordering your army troops. These young people need to at least see a way out. They need to see that the lives that have been lost have some meaning, that the value of a Palestinian life is not worth less than the value of an Israeli life. And that is why we ask for the [international] fact-finding commission and for some disengagement by the Israelis. Then, of course, Arafat would be able to really instruct, advise, and have everything in control, because these people then will listen to him and will really find it in the interest of peace to listen to him.–Nabil Shaath, Palestinian negotiator (FTN)I think what [the Palestinians] do [by fighting] is they harm themselves, too, not only us. And I don’t think that Palestinians are made of one view and people. … In 30 years, in between 1914 and 1945, 50 million Europeans lost their lives, millions of other Europeans lost their eyes, their legs, their hands. If somebody told you, in 1944, that within one year you could have a different Europe, that you could have peace, I think everybody would be laughing. But look what happened after such bloodshed and hatred, after a history of red ink. I believe the same applies here. We should not lose either hope or perspective, and we should understand that people are condemned in a modern age to live in peace, not war.–Shimon Peres, former Israeli prime minister (TW)