The last Cold War­riors

The Jerusalem Post - - FRONTLINES - • By AMOTZ ASA-EL

His Grum­man Avenger’s en­gine ablaze, Lt. Ge­orge H.W. Bush parachuted from his tor­pedo bomber’s cock­pit into the Pa­cific some 900 kilo­me­ters south of Tokyo, where a US Navy sub­ma­rine col­lected him while Amer­i­can fighter-bombers hov­ered over­head.

The aborted sor­tie in Septem­ber 1944, one of the 20-year-old fighter pi­lot’s 58 com­bat mis­sions, caught an en­tirely dif­fer­ent man, one Yitzhak Shamir, in be­tween mas­ter­mind­ing two as­sas­si­na­tions.

The first tar­geted Bri­tish High Com­mis­sioner Harold McMichael, whose en­tourage was sprayed with sub­ma­chine gun bul­lets out­side Jerusalem, an at­tack he ac­tu­ally sur­vived. The sec­ond tar­geted Lord Wal­ter Moyne, Bri­tain’s min­is­ter for the Mid­dle East, who was shot dead by Shamir’s gun­men in Cairo.

Like the in­verted as­sign­ments of an avi­at­ing bomber and an un­der­ground hit­man, and like the 30-cen­time­ter gap be­tween the tow­er­ing Bush and the stocky Shamir – the pair’s ori­gins were as dis­tant as Shamir’s hum­ble birth­place in the Pale of Set­tle­ment, Rozhi­noi, was from af­flu­ent Mil­ton, the Waspish Bos­ton sub­urb where Bush was born.

Add to th­ese dis­parate roots the two’s cold­ish per­son­al­i­ties and you get the chill, mis­trust and ac­ri­mony that gov­erned the re­la­tion­ship into which they were forced while the Cold War that dom­i­nated their ca­reers drew to a close.

That was then. Now, as a perplexed Amer­ica mourns its 41st pres­i­dent, six years after Is­rael buried its sixth prime min­is­ter, this odd cou­ple ap­pears to have ac­tu­ally had in com­mon much more than they re­al­ized, hav­ing ef­fec­tively co-au­thored a de­part­ing epoch’s epi­logue. THE EPOCH was de­fined by its two grand wars – the hot one that de­feated fas­cism, and the cold one that un­did com­mu­nism.

Two gen­er­a­tions of world lead­ers were smelted in World War II’s fur­naces, whether as war­riors, like Dwight Eisen­hower, John Kennedy and Jimmy Carter, or as vic­tims, like Mar­garet Thatcher, who en­dured the Luft­waffe’s bom­bard­ments, Willy Brandt, who fled Nazism to Scan­di­navia, and Yitzhak Shamir, who lost his par­ents and two sis­ters in the Holo­caust.

The same went for the Cold War, which shaped the con­duct of myr­iad lead­ers, good and bad, from Golda Meir and Ronald Rea­gan to Fran­cisco Franco and Au­gusto Pinochet.

For Bush and Shamir, this bag­gage was par­tic­u­larly heavy, as Bush headed the CIA and Shamir was a se­nior ex­ec­u­tive in the Mos­sad. The Cold War fur­ther shaped the two’s mind­sets by the one’s ser­vice as Nixon’s am­bas­sador to the UN and the other’s as Me­nachem Be­gin’s for­eign min­is­ter.

By sheer co­in­ci­dence, both men’s lone elec­toral vic­to­ries came within seven days of each other in au­tumn 1988 (Shamir’s pre­vi­ous pre­mier­ship fol­lowed an elec­toral tie’s ro­ta­tion gov­ern­ment, and the one be­fore it fol­lowed a par­lia­men­tary vote in the wake of Be­gin’s res­ig­na­tion), and their de­feats both came in 1992.

In the in­terim, both men would shrewdly ex­ploit the Cold War’s de­par­ture, but would also fail to ad­just to the ap­proach­ing era’s norms and de­mands.

CHAL­LENGED by Sad­dam Hus­sein’s in­va­sion of Kuwait in the sum­mer of 1990, Bush nav­i­gated con­fi­dently in the epoch’s twi­light as he as­sem­bled and led the grand coali­tion of Western, Arab, Asian and post-com­mu­nist armies that lib­er­ated Kuwait.

Back in Europe, with the East Ger­man peo­ple hav­ing elected in win­ter ’90 an anti-com­mu­nist gov­ern­ment al­lied with West Ger­man leader Hel­mut Kohl; and with the two Ger­manys agree­ing the fol­low­ing spring to unify their economies – Bush rightly con­cluded that Ger­man uni­fi­ca­tion was both in­evitable and de­sir­able.

Shamir, at the same time, failed to see the East Bloc’s ap­proach­ing col­lapse, and thus op­posed Ger­many’s re­uni­fi­ca­tion. How­ever, he did re­al­ize that the Soviet earth was quak­ing, and thus set out to re­trieve from be­tween its tec­tonic plates both Soviet and Ethiopian Jewry.

This was the con­text in which the two men clashed, as Bush tried to im­pose on Shamir a land-for-peace deal with the Pales­tini­ans in turn for $10 bil­lion in loan guar­an­tees that the post-Cold War im­mi­grants’ ab­sorp­tion re­quired.

Bush man­aged to drag Shamir to the Madrid Peace Con­fer­ence in au­tumn ’91, but its af­ter­math only ce­mented his feel­ing that Shamir was his am­bi­tions’ spoiler; the Cold War lieu­tenant who would not let its gen­eral com­plete that war’s burial.

A gen­er­a­tion on, it is clear the epochal tran­si­tion un­der­way was about en­tirely dif­fer­ent is­sues.

FIRST, LIKE most Cold War­riors, Bush and Shamir were both for­eign-pol­icy crea­tures who fell from power on do­mes­tic is­sues – Bush be­cause of his tax­a­tion record, Shamir be­cause he was caught off guard by Yitzhak Rabin’s prom­ises to build high­ways and in­ter­changes, raise ed­u­ca­tion spend­ing, and uni­ver­sal­ize health care, all of which he in­deed did.

Much more cru­cially than their fail­ure to fore­see its agen­das, Bush and Shamir would con­trast the ap­proach­ing era’s spirit of fri­vol­ity, reck­less­ness and scan­dal.

That spirit was an­nounced with the Mon­ica Lewin­ski affair in Wash­ing­ton, and the “hot video­tape” em­bar­rass­ment in Jerusalem, in which Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu, while con­test­ing Shamir’s suc­ces­sion as Likud leader, con­fessed on TV an ex­tra­mar­i­tal affair while al­leg­ing some­one was out to black­mail him over it.

Both episodes would pale com­pared with the rise of char­ac­ters like Sil­vio Ber­lus­coni, whose third wife left him while he was prime min­is­ter, say­ing he was “con­sort­ing with mi­nors,” or Fran­cois Hol­lande, who after night­fall would wear a black hel­met and scoot away from the El­yse to a girl­friend’s apart­ment; or Don­ald Trump, who con­sorted with a porn star at one point and a Play­boy model at an­other.

Can any­one imag­ine any­thing like this hap­pen­ing with Bush or Shamir?

Lack­lus­ter, busi­ness-minded and woe­fully un­charis­matic, they were se­ri­ous, cu­ri­ous, stu­dious, dili­gent, re­spon­si­ble pa­tri­ots whose unas­sum­ing style was el­bowed by an era in which tweets re­place plan­ning, bravado de­poses thought, ob­scen­ity con­tam­i­nates rhetoric, and pop­ulists – from Wash­ing­ton and Brasilia to Budapest and Manila – pose as states­men.

As the new era’s men­ac­ing un­cer­tain­ties mount, one truth looms: this week, out­side the Ge­orge Bush Li­brary at Col­lege Sta­tion, Texas, the era of po­lit­i­cal san­ity was for­mally laid to rest.



PRES­I­DENT GE­ORGE H.W. Bush ad­dresses the Madrid Peace Con­fer­ence in 1991 while prime min­is­ter Yitzhak Shamir (third from right) lis­tens.

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