Consider the situation in the White House Situation Room last Thursday morning: Israeli troops and armor had invaded almost every city in the West Bank and surrounded about 200 Palestinian fighters barricaded inside Bethlehem's sacred Church of the Nativity. Anti-American demonstrations in Cairo, Beirut, Amman and other Middle Eastern capitals were making it impossible for Washington's Arab allies to stay on the fence. Egypt cut some ties with Israel and warned the White House that the rest could be in jeopardy. Oil prices spiked to $28 a barrel, and the stock market plunged. Anti-Semites vandalized synagogues in France and Belgium. American embassies cabled Washington that they might be the next targets. And White House officials were poring over satellite pictures from the region: Syria was moving its troops in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon in anticipation of Israeli strikes across the border. The situation, a senior White House official concedes, was "getting out of control."
Talk about grabbing George W. Bush's attention: the President finally saw that he had gone down the wrong road, and he pulled a quick U-turn. When he stepped up to the Rose Garden podium Thursday morning, Bush ended more than a year of stubborn disengagement from the Middle East peace process, sending Secretary of State Colin Powell to the region to seek a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Bush's speech was tough and elegant. "The storms of violence cannot go on," he said. "Enough is enough."
The meetings that produced the speech were even more extraordinary. For several days, the most powerful people in the Administration had served as speechwriters. Bush, Powell, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and CIA Director George Tenet had all called or crowded into the Situation Room and worked on the speech line by line--a measure of how troubled and critical this moment really was. The team added a great deal of moral embroidery and made sure that the speech demanded something from everyone. In the Rose Garden, Bush reached out to Yasser Arafat, endorsing Palestinian statehood and giving the leader another chance to stop the terrorists and make peace--but making it clear this chance would be his last. Bush pressed Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to pull his troops and tanks from the West Bank cities and insisted that Israel begin treating the Palestinians with "compassion." Bush called on moderate Arab countries to stop wringing their hands and start helping the Palestinians build their new nation--but also warned Iraq, Iran and Syria not to undo the deal by supporting terror. During the speechwriting sessions, Administration sources told TIME, the dependably hard-line Rumsfeld had pushed most fiercely to include tough language aimed at any nation that might try to "fish in troubled waters," as one aide put it. And these sources noticed during the several days of drafting that Cheney was particularly active, more willing than before to wager American prestige in a game with so many risks--and keen to sharpen language that warned rogue nations to stay out of the fight.