Indeed, Abrams casts Rice’s decision to put him charge of Middle East policy after Bush’s speech as a signal that “Rice was staking out a position: closer to Cheney and Bush and farther from [Secretary of State Colin L.] Powell and State,” which had preferred to keep dealing with Arafat. Abrams believed that progress was made not by demanding concessions from Israel but by hugging the Jewish state as closely as possible — and that every day that Arafat remained in power was a defeat for the president’s policy. He tasked himself to remain true to the vision of Bush’s speech.
Abrams’s book is a reminder of how dysfunctional the policymaking process was during the Bush administration, when disputes were never resolved but simply deferred for another battle. In 2004, when the administration was considering whether to back Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan to exit Gaza, Abrams writes of the “nonsense” repeatedly spouted by the State Department spokesman on the administration’s position. He then approvingly quotes from a Washington Post article I wrote on the administration’s policy. That article, based on NSC and Israeli briefings that I had requested, contained on-the-record statements from a White House official. The day it appeared, a senior State Department official called me to say that top officials there were “freaking out” over it. In other words, rather than hold an interagency meeting to settle policy, senior officials communicated with each other through the newspaper.