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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Peace President Faces Strife at Election Time

It was a wonderful foreign policy presidency, while it lasted. We were just getting accustomed to Bill Clinton, Master of the Universe, when the Bosnian peace settlement suddenly stalled and the Irish Republican Army's bomb went off in London.


Richard Holbrooke, the special U.S. envoy who brokered the Bosnian peace talks at the U.S. Air Force base at Dayton, Ohio, has dashed back to Sarajevo to put more sticking plaster over what is evidently a still-gaping wound.


All this is very frustrating for Rahm Emmanuel, the former ballet dancer and political fundraiser from Chicago who has become something of a genius at arranging White House peace ceremonies. He choreographed the first one, between Israel and the PLO, in Clinton's first year as president, and had hopes of pulling off three or even four more this election year.


It was a dream, naturally. But for all the language of realpolitik that you hear from political operatives, they remain a breed of romantics.


Emmanuel's dream was for a series of monthly spectaculars, leading up to the election in November. First, there would be a peace settlement over Northern Ireland, preferably on St. Patrick's Day, with British and Irish prime ministers and Catholic and Protestant leaders all singing Clinton's praise as a 700-year old enmity is finally resolved.


Then would come the Syria-Israel ceremony in May or June, to be followed in October by a full-scale Balkans peace treaty signed on the White House lawn, on the first anniversary of the Bosnian cease-fire. That would resolve a 500-year-old enmity.


And then just on the eve of the election in November would come the Big One -- the Arab states and peoples, from the Saudis to the Syrians, Lebanon and the PLO, all gathering in the East room (too cold for the lawn) with Israel's leaders to sign the comprehensive Middle East peace treaty.


That, of course, would settle the 200-year-old enmity. Maybe there would just be time for the Nobel Peace Prize to be announced before Americans went to the polls to re-elect Clinton the Peacemaker.


Instead of Emmanuel's dream, we have the U.S. Pacific fleet cruising nervously off the coast of Taiwan, hoping very much they will not have to intervene in a shooting war if China backs up its rhetoric and its saber-rattling with missiles. Instead of peace treaties on the White House lawn, we could be looking at a new kind of Cold War across the Pacific by the time Americans go to the polls.


Diplomacy is a time-sensitive art. What looked realistic and brilliant last week can appear the height of naive and gullible folly tomorrow. The triumph that Clinton enjoyed in Belfast last December, when he was cheered to the echo by people who really believed that he had helped bring them peace, now looks hollow after the return of the Irish bombers to London's Docklands.


And yet, when it comes to elections, there is one political development that voters tend to support even more than peace treaties. Victory in war, or the declaration of war, or the threat of war, or the aversion of war by toughness, have all in the past proved to be rather more reliable guarantors of re-election than any amount of diplomatic genius.


There is no doubt that Clinton would prefer to campaign on peace breaking out all over, rather than on deep tension with China. But for a re-election campaign, either one will do.