14 January 2008

A lackluster report card for Bush's Middle East junket

A lackluster report card for Bush's Middle East junket
January 14 2008

Apparently, George W. Bush's handlers, desperate to improve his international image in the waning months of his period in the White House, were hoping to win more bang for the American taxpayers' bucks they spent last week sending their man to the Middle East to talk about making peace after many years of making non-stop war. However, in politics, stuff happens. Bush was upstaged in the news by the headline-making drama of the New Hampshire primary, by the growing tide of worry about a recession that has developed on his watch, and even by the antics of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his fashion-model/pop-singer girlfriend.

Unfortunately for Bush's team, despite the considerable expense of his public-relations junket to Israel and several Arab countries, many news media in the region - and even some major news outlets beyond it - did not give the Republican pol's trip high marks.

Bush appears to be hoping against hope that, for the sake of his reputation, the Israelis and Palestinians will make peace before he leaves the White House, thereby allowing the glow of the resolution of their long conflict to rub off on Bush himself. However, in a news-analysis piece on the even of Bush's trip, Britain's Times pointed out: "The Bush administration believes that a Palestinian state can be born by the end of 2008 if the two parties now engage seriously in negotiating the thorny issues of future borders, Jewish settlements, the status of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees." But the "reality on the ground, in places the presidential cortège will not be visiting, is very different. The Palestinian lands, which would form the future state, are divided by Jewish settlements and the Israeli security wall. Their inhabitants are trapped in a no-man's-land that can barely support a poor rural economy, let alone become the foundation for a thriving sovereign state." Meanwhile, the Gaza Strip "is now completely in the hands of the Islamic militant movement Hamas, whose fighters are engaged in daily rocket duels with the Israeli military. It is far more likely that the two sides will go to war in this crowded strip before it becomes part of a stable future Palestine."

» The Herald Sun, apparently somewhat surprised by the intensity of the criticism, pointed out that numerous "Arab commentators poured scorn on...Bush's vision of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal [emerging] within a year." Noting that, in Israel, Bush had urged both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to make "difficult choices," the Australian newspaper reported: "But in Egypt, the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel, [the] liberal-opposition newspaper Al-Wafd described Bush as 'the most hateful visitor' and a 'war criminal.'" The Egyptian paper observed: "After all the destruction you have caused and which your country continues to cause, you have wished to end your rule by playing the role of peacemaker....But you are lying as you have lied before to the people of the Middle East and to your own people."

Syria's official Ath-Thawra intoned: "Before and during his visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories,...Bush more than once urged Israel to stop settlement expansion and called for the creation of an independent Palestinian state....These are only beautiful words of peace." Rami Khouri, a Palestinian-Jordanian and U.S. citizen, and journalist and editor associated with Lebanon's Daily Star, "said Washington's refusal to accept the verdict when groups like the Islamist Palestinian group Hamas were elected to power, left Bush open to accusations of hypocrisy." Khouri commented: "If you preach majority rule and the rule of law as a desirable global norm but refuse to respect it when Israeli interests are concerned, you come across as a hypocrite, at best, and a deceitful cheat, at worst...." (Cited by the Herald Sun)

» Saudi Arabia's Arab News, in an editorial headlined "Cynicism with Reason," noted: "We ought to be celebrating...Bush's declaration that a Palestinian state is 'long overdue.'...We should be excited by his call for an end to the Israeli occupation, all the more because 'occupation' is a word so rarely used by the Americans in relation to the Israelis. But there will be no dancing in the streets of Ramallah or Jericho or any other Palestinian town - or any Arab one....It is impossible to feel any excitement about Bush's words - because no Palestinian, no Arab believes he will, or can, deliver....[T]here are good reasons - the most powerful being that we have been here, heard it all, too many times before, and to no effect."

Arabs are cautious or doubtful in response to Bush's latest pronouncements, Arab News added, for "two specific reasons." "The first is Washington's historic alliance with Israel, which despite the ringing words about a Palestinian state, Bush himself fully re-endorsed during his visit [last] week. We can be absolutely certain that Washington is not going to exert the pressure needed to force the Israelis into making the necessary concessions for there to be a fully sovereign Palestinian state. Even if Bush wanted to (which has to be seriously questioned), Congress would not let him; certainly not in the limited time available." Arab News said many Arabs' second concern about Bush "is the man himself. He has proved a disaster of a president - for the U.S., for the Middle East, for the world. Everything he touches turns to dust and ashes." (See also the Hindu)

» In the United Arab Emirates, the Gulf News published an editorial called "Letter to George W. Bush." Citing a litany of Bush's controversial accomplishments and events or people that have indelibly marked his period in office, it stated: "Dear Mr. President: Lest you forget[:] Invasion of Iraq. Thousands of dead. Looting the National Museum. Disbanding the Iraqi army. Donald Rumsfeld. Shock and awe. Jay Garner. Paul Bremer. Inciting sectarianism. Abu Ghraib. Thousands of detainees without charges. Torture. Oil. Ghost WMDs. The Niger connection. Halliburton. Blackwater. Deadly security contractors. Mercenaries. Fallujah. Haditha massacre. Blind support of Israel. Instigating the suffering of Gaza. Ignoring the expansion of illegal colonies. Defying United Nations resolutions. Securing 'a Jewish State.' Allowing Israelis to extend the destruction of Lebanon in the 2006 war. Providing Israel with new bunker-buster bombs to attack Lebanese towns. The War on Terror. 'The Crusade.' Clash of civilizations. Where is Osama Bin Laden? Afghanistan. Bagram massacre. Bombing media offices. Guantánamo Bay. Kangaroo courts. Indefinite detention. Presidential orders to ignore Geneva Conventions. 'Unlawful enemy combatants.' Illegal National Security Agency wiretapping. Fingerprinting visitors. Black prisons. Kidnapping foreign citizens on foreign lands. Khalid Al Masri. Abu Omar. Maher Arar. Central Intelligence Agency. 'Aggressive interrogation techniques.' Destroying the torture tapes....Denial of global warming. Rejecting Kyoto Protocol. Marginalization of the United Nations. John Bolton. Paul Wolfowitz and the World Bank. Karl Rove. Alberto Gonzales. Firing attorneys. Nepotism. False democracy promises. Dick Cheney, Dick Cheney and Dick Cheney....The list goes on."

The Gulf News editorial continued: "Mr. President[,]...It has been reported that you are here to 'lecture' us on democracy and human rights. But with a record like yours, you will not be very convincing....Regional peace...will not be achieved by escalating tension and threatening to change regimes. And most importantly, it will not be achieved by supporting Israel, which continues to defy international law, occupy Arab lands, oppress the Palestinians and rebuff peace initiatives....We hope you have enjoyed the trip so far. The scenery is great. The food is exotic. As for the more 'serious' things, it is unlikely you will make any difference."

Posted By: Edward M. Gomez (Email) | January 14 2008 at 07:51 AM
Edward M. Gomez, a former U.S. diplomat and staff reporter at TIME, has lived and worked in the U.S. and overseas, and speaks several languages. He has written for The New York Times, the Japan Times and the International Herald Tribune.

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