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Editorial Changing of the guard

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

The new president of the United States, George W. Bush, enters office at a propitious time for the country. The U.S. has no major enemies abroad and is enjoying high levels of prosperity at home. Old, seemingly intractable conflicts, while not resolved, at least seem to be on the road to resolution. Among them is the Northern Ireland crisis.

Though, in global terms, it is a minor conflict, because of the relationship involving the U.S., Britain and Ireland, it occupies an unusual position. That triangle of nations has long been an important one for all three, in war and in peace. Anything that complicates it, and threatens to poison the three-way relationship, has to be tackled with attention and seriousness.

Bill Clinton, President Bush’s predecessor, knew this and worked hard during both his terms of office to help resolve the crisis. Even his enemies (at least those who are rational) agree that he made spectacular progress.

Over the past few weeks it has been heartening to hear many Irish-American supporters of George W. Bush commit themselves, in congress and outside of it, to making sure that the progress made over the last six years will not be allowed to grind to a halt. The new president can enjoy many advantages that the last Republican holder of that office, his father, did not. President Bush no longer confronts a British government hostile to any thought of the U.S. involving itself in the Northern problem. If anything, the British are keen to share responsibility for unraveling the knots of conflict with both Dublin and Washington, realizing the important role that they can play. This is a long overdue recognition that the Irish conflict is more than just an Irish conflict, but involves important interests in the U.S. and elsewhere.

The new president also does not have to face an uncompromising militancy that is blind to the consequences of its own acts. The IRA has demonstrated to all open-minded people that it is sincerely committed to achieving a negotiated, political solution. The futility of the armed campaign is acknowledged privately, if not publicly.

Most important, President Bush will have the good will of nearly all Irish Americans, both Republican and Democrat, when he shows that he is serious about the commitments he made on Northern Ireland during the campaign. The fact that he has moved the issue back to the secretary of state might well be regretted. But it is easy for the new president to show that this is not a sign of lack of concern by getting his appointee Colin Powell to make it clear that the issue will not vanish into the black hole of bureaucracy.

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The president has a lot to gain, in terms of helping to secure his party’s standing with Irish Americans — after all, 46 percent of all registered Republicans are Catholic, according to US News and World Report — by an early demonstration that Northern Ireland problem will not be shunted aside but will continue to receive the attention that it needs.

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