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Jewish World Review April 12, 2001 / 19 Nissan, 5761

Clarence Page

Clarence Page
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Consumer Reports

Not this time, Jesse -- WHAT is the world coming to when leaders start solving their own hostage crises without the help of the Rev. Jesse Jackson?

Thanks, but no thanks. That was the message Secretary of State Colin Powell gave to Jackson when the two chatted by phone early Tuesday, according to Jackson and State Department spokesmen.

Jackson offered his services to win release of 24 American servicemen and women whom China was holding in a dispute over a spy plane. President Bush was calling the crisis a "stalemate." Bush and Beijing were stuck on China's demand for a full apology and Bush's refusal to give them more than a heartfelt regret over the incident and a "sorry" for the loss of a Chinese pilot. Bush called on Americans to be patient, but that word, "stalemate," brought back ominous memories of the hostage crisis that helped end Jimmy Carter's presidency after one term.

Powell and Bush turned Jackson down, but significantly they did not try to stop him. If Jackson wanted to venture off on an unofficial mission to China, he was on his own. No surprise there. Bush had enough on his platter without getting into a fuss with the nation's most prominently controversial black leader.

Besides, plausible deniability has become the standard way for presidents to deal with Jackson's free-lance diplomacy: Don't support him, but don't try to stop him, either. He probably won't do any harm and, when negotiations are bottlenecked, he might do some good. If Jackson fails, you can claim to have nothing to do with it. If he succeeds, hey, throw a party, hold a big welcome-home celebration and have a terrific photo opportunity.

But not this time. Less than a day after Jackson made his offer public, China announced it was releasing the captive crewmen. The crisis appeared to be solved without Jackson's help. What a disappointment this must be for Jackson. What a worry! What if this becomes a trend? What if people everywhere start solving their own problems instead of calling on him? What good is a leader to those who do not wish to be led?

Not this time, Jesse

This episode shows how much the world's view of Jackson has changed since 1984, the year he helped win the release of downed Navy flyer Lt. Robert O. Goodman Jr. in Syria. The Reagan administration denounced Jackson's free-lance diplomacy. But when Jackson came home with Goodman, Reagan gave them both a grand Rose Garden welcoming ceremony.

A few months later, Jackson talked to Fidel Castro and helped win the release of 48 political prisoners in Cuba.

While President George Bush the elder was in office, Jackson negotiated the release of more than 700 foreign "human shields" in Iraq in 1990.

In the Clinton years, Jackson won the release of three American military prisoners in Yugoslavia in 1998.

In these episodes and others, Jackson, the civil rights veteran and protégé to Martin Luther King Jr., solidified a new reputation for himself as the man to see if you wanted to get political captives freed. It enhanced his crossover appeal beyond his mostly black and liberal base and helped lay the groundwork for his presidential campaigns of 1984 and 1988.

But Jackson's star has slowly fallen since 1988. Despite draft movements urging him to run for mayor of the District of Columbia and other offices, he has avoided seeking any political office that he has a real chance of winning. This has given new credence to former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry's old barb that Jackson doesn't know how to run "anything but his mouth."

Worse, he has become a favorite topic for comedians and the front page of the National Enquirer, since the tabloid revealed his mistress and out-of-wedlock child. Other media have taken fresh looks at his nonprofit organizations and recast them as instruments for Jackson to enrich himself while threatening large corporations with racism charges unless they fork over large contracts to his friends and donations to his organizations.

Had Jackson pulled off a successful China rescue mission, he would have liberated more than the American detainees. He also would have liberated himself, at least for a while, from the pain of negative publicity.

But, alas, it was not to be. Ah, what a calamity for Jackson to be eclipsed as an international negotiator at a moment when he desperately needs some positive press.

And how ironic it is that he finds himself eclipsed by a black Republican.

What's the world coming to? It appears to be leaving Jackson behind, and he has only himself to blame.

Comment on JWR contributor Clarence Page's column by clicking here.


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03/15/01: The census: How much race still matters in the everyday life of America
03/12/01: Jesse is a victim!
03/08/01: Saving kids from becoming killers
03/01/01: Parents owe "Puffy" and Eminem our thanks

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