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Political Play of the Week

Powell begs to differ, and has the world on his side

President Bush
President Bush announced Thursday that he is sending Secretary of State Colin Powell to the Middle East.  

By Bill Schneider
CNN senior political analyst

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Parallel to the bloody ordeal in the Middle East this week, there was a political struggle in Washington over President Bush's Middle East policy.

There were no winners in the Middle East. But Washington did have a winner.

And a political Play of the Week.

On one side, a potent array of influential conservatives -- including Gary Bauer, William Bennett and Richard Perle -- who wrote a letter to President Bush urging him to stand firm with Israel.

They took heart from what President Bush said last week. "Israel is a democratically elected government, and the government is responding to the will of the people for there to be more security," the president said.

Conservatives believed they were winning.

"He is standing solidly with Israel," Majority Whip Tom DeLay said on Wednesday. "He is resisting the constant calls to force Israel back to the negotiating table where they will be pressured to grant concessions to terrorists."

But there was an influential voice on the other side.

"I am prepared to go anywhere, anytime when it serves a useful purpose," Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Tuesday.

Colin Powell
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell  

On Monday, when President Bush refused to ostracize Yasser Arafat, conservatives began to worry. But Powell begged to differ.

"Chairman Arafat still has a legitimate role within the Palestinian movement, and we think at this point, it's best to deal with him in that role," he said.

The conservatives warned the president, "It is critical that negotiations not be the product of terrorism or conducted under the threat of terrorist attack.''

Powell again begged to differ, in an interview Wednesday night on CBS News "60 Minutes II.''

"The Palestinian people have to see that there is a political process -- and not just a cease-fire and security process," he said. "A political process that we will get involved in early on, through negotiations, which will lead quickly to a Palestinian state.''

On Thursday, President Bush called on Israel to withdraw from Palestinian-controlled areas.

He told Palestinians if they give up terror, there was hope for a Palestinian state.

And he declared a winner in the battle of Washington.

"I have decided to send Secretary of State Powell to the region next week to seek broad international support for the vision that I have outlined today,'' the president said on Friday.

A trip to the Middle East isn't much of a prize.

But Powell can console himself with the political Play of the Week.

Why did Powell prevail?

Start with this: He had the entire international community on his side -- including Arab regimes whose support will be crucial in the larger war on terrorism.




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