Bush 41 vs. Bush 43 on Middle East Policies

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," August 2, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: President Bush and his dad share a lot in common. They both became American presidents, they both led wars in the Gulf, but it's not like father like son when it comes to their policies in the Middle East.

Here to debate their policies are FOX News political analysts Ellis Henican, Newsday columnist, and Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review.

Gents, they differ on Israel. President Bush, the elder, was tougher on Israel. President Bush, the younger, seems to be more permissive.

Rich Lowry, who is right?

RICH LOWRY, NATIONAL REVIEW EDITOR: I think the second Bush is and he's responding to changing conditions, the most important of which is for decades, John, the premise for all diplomacy in the Middle East was based on land for peace. Israel gives up land and peace breaks out all over.

Now, we've had recently — in recent years, two unprecedented evacuations of Israel, of occupied territory, first in southern Lebanon, then in Gaza. And John, what did they get? They got more warfare.

GIBSON: Ellis?

ELLIS HENICAN, NEWSDAY COLUMNIST: John, all American presidents are supportive of Israel, including Papa Bush.

Two differences though: One was that the elder Bush understood the Americans play the most effective role by being an honest broker between the warring parties. And the older Bush also understands that this is a whole lot easier if we can build international coalitions to try and solve the problems in the Middle East in a way that it doesn't look to the Muslim world and the rest of the world that it's just us and Israel against everybody. That's the big mistake they made today.

GIBSON: But Ellis...

LOWRY: But, Ellis, you can't be an honest broker between Israel and Hezbollah, a terror group. The very notion of it is absurd.

HENICAN: There are a lot of nations there including Lebanon, which has exactly the same problems, our other allies in the Middle East. Just watch what's happened, incidentally, as the Iraqi vice president is now attacking Israel. Two friends there at vicious odds with each other. You've got to somehow make a deal.

GIBSON: But, Ellis, Rich has a point. And are you saying Bush, the elder, would still be tough on Israel if Israel pulled out of Lebanon, gave land for peace and didn't get peace in return? Are you saying he still would have been demanding of them in a way different than his son?

HENICAN: Well, there's a problem with the premise in your question, John.

GIBSON: There always is.

HENICAN: The elder George Bush was not anti-Israel. You're making him out to be some kind of hostile to Israel. He was very supportive of Israel, but he used what turned out in hindsight to be a much more effective approach which is to build international coalitions to get tough stuff done.

John, I thought the younger guy was starting to understand it, but it looks like he's not.

LOWRY: This is absurd. Ellis, so much of the first Bush's policy is based on getting Israel to give up its settlements based on the idea that that was the problem in the Middle East. Well, Israeli tore up the settlements in Gaza and it got more conflict and it got more warfare.

HENICAN: In the end...

LOWRY: And if you also, Ellis, if you listen to — some of the public statements of these Arab leaders have gotten more critical of Israel, but basically they're on our side. They want Hezbollah to be destroyed as soon as possible because they know it's the agent of Iran.

HENICAN: Absolutely. So let's work together with opportunity.

LOWRY: That's what we're trying to do.

HENICAN: It's the same thing with the Iraq war. Look at the comparison we had of the allies we had in the Iraq war the first time that haven't worked.

GIBSON: You always want to go back to that Iraq war. Stick with the Hezbollah for a second. Are you telling me that President Bush, the elder, wouldn't have been just as tough on Hezbollah?

HENICAN: Oh, no, I'm not — we're all tough on Hezbollah. Hezbollah needs to be reigned in and pacified, but the question is how you go about doing it. Do you do it in an isolation approach?

LOWRY: Yes, and you know the first step to doing that, Ellis, is letting the Israeli military hit them hard.

HENICAN: Well, you know what, Rich?

LOWRY: You seem to have this idea we can mediate between a terrorist group and a democracy.

HENICAN: You know what Rich? Rich, the results...

LOWRY: But the terror group is not going to cooperate, Ellis. Sorry.

HENICAN: The results speak for themselves, Rich. This is not turning out to be going very well.

LOWRY: Give them more time to work on it. Give them more time to work on it.

HENICAN: Having more friends in the region — having some friends would help.

LOWRY: Give them more time to work on it, Ellis.

HENICAN: It'd be nice to have the Syrians with us and the...


LOWRY: We could work with Hezbollah and Syria and Iran, if only we talked with them. Ellis, this is a pipe dream. These are terrorist regimes, Ellis.

HENICAN: You're never going to win your way. You will...

LOWRY: You cannot compromise with them. Hezbollah is their proxy army and...


GIBSON: OK, let me — Ellis, so at this point, channel the elder President Bush. What would he be doing?

HENICAN: He would be building coalitions with other nations in the region.

GIBSON: With who? With Iran and Syria?

HENICAN: With Saudi Arabia, perhaps even with Iran and Syria. Allow yourself to dream, John. These things have been possible in the past and their possible again.

LOWRY: Ellis, your premise is factually flawed.

HENICAN: Simply not.

LOWRY: We are working with those regimes. We are talking to Egypt. We are talking to Saudi Arabia.

HENICAN: And that's the good part.

LOWRY: The idea that we're not doing it is absurd.

HENICAN: And I'm encouraging that. More of that. More of that.

LOWRY: But there will only be decent settlement if Hezbollah is really hurt. And that's what you miss and all liberals miss.

HENICAN: When it all boils down to America and Israel against the world, that's a losing hand, my friend. A losing hand.

LOWRY: That's an extremely simplistic rendering. For a guy who is celebrating subtlety and nuance, that's a very simplistic approach.

GIBSON: Ellis Henican and Rich Lowry, thanks to both of you. Take it out in the hall. Appreciate it.

LOWRY: All right. That was fun. Thanks, John.

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