George W. Bush is a transformational leader. He's willing to take big risks to make big changes. Unlike most modern presidents — Ronald Reagan the notable exception — Bush is in high office not so much to be something as to do something. Post Iraqi liberation, the whole Middle East can be transformed — but only if Bush radically changes our key relationships, and even how we define the key problem.
In contrast to transformational leaders are transitional leaders — those who keep their desk tidy, make managerial decisions, and leave few footprints. Under President Clinton, and most of his predecessors, the key problem was Israeli intransigence over its settlements. And our key relationships were with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat (search), Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.
Already Bush has swung that around. Arafat used to be the most welcome foreign guest in the Clinton White House — welcomed there more even than the prime ministers of England, Canada, or elsewhere. Yet Arafat has not set foot in the Bush White House. And I suspect he never will.
Yet other key relationships remain as they were. Leaders of Saudi Arabia and Egypt (along with junior partner Jordan) will gather with Bush during his first presidential Middle East foray early next month.
This is unfortunate, since Egypt and Saudi Arabia represent what Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld might dub "the old Middle East." They're repressive regimes we've backed for decades. And they have done enormous damage by bankrolling worldwide terrorism (the Saudi specialty) or producing terrorists (Egypt's contribution).
Why we continue to doll out nearly $2 billion in U.S. foreign aid to Egypt each year escapes me. Their economic system produces little development. Twenty years of incompetent autocracy under Hosni Mubarak (search) has wrought economic stagnation — and political and social disenchantment. It's no coincidence that Mohammad Atta (search), the Sept. 11 ringleader, and Usama bin Laden's top deputies are all Egyptian.
The leaders of Egypt and Saudi Arabia are upset with Bush now, and for all the right reasons. They opposed the liberation of Iraq, but Bush proceeded anyway. Now they oppose the liberation of Arabs, but Bush is proceeding anyway.
Which brings us to the second factor I mentioned — how we define the key problem. Suppose it's not "land for peace." (Shouldn't the Arabs be willing to take "peace for peace," and/or "land for land"?) Suppose how we define the key problem changes from Israeli intransigence on the West Bank and Gaza. Suppose it becomes decency, democracy, and efficiency in the Arab world.
The key United Nations landmark becomes — not Security Council Resolutions 242 or 338 — but the Arab Human Development Report. Written by 25 leading Arab intellectuals, it describes in chilling detail the failures of modern Arabia through three gaps — the education gap, economic gap, and freedom gap. These gaps keep the Arab world backwards.
Instead of heeding each Arab League communiqué, suppose we treated those communiqués like the propaganda once issued by the Warsaw Pact. After all, the Arab League gatherings are the only international sessions since the Warsaw Pact without a single legitimate, freely-elected government in them.
Changing how we define the key problem will change our key relationships. The Egyptian and Saudi rulers are the real perpetuators of the education, economic, and freedom gaps in Arabia.
They show scant inclination to change. Washington Post reporter Alan Sipress (search) last week described how Mubarak's senior foreign policy adviser, Osama Baz, "was scathing in his criticism of some U.S. officials who have demanded that Arab governments, including Egypt, introduce democratic change."
Hala Mustafa, head of the political department at the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, told how Egyptian rulers "are not comfortable with the new American approach in the region. For the first time, the American strategy emphasizes change and does not emphasize maintaining the status quo."
Well. At least they're beginning to get the point. Let's hope they get it directly from President Bush in a few weeks. That's what a transformational leader does. He transforms — even an entire region.
Kenneth Adelman is a frequent guest commentator on Fox News, was assistant to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld from 1975 to 1977 and, under President Ronald Reagan, U.N. ambassador and arms-control director. Mr. Adelman is now co-host of TechCentralStation.com.