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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2677

Bush in the Middle East

By Allabaksh - Syndicate Features

The optimism expressed by President George W. Bush can take one’s breath away. During his visit to West Asia he declared with a straight face that he expects a free Palestinian state to be established before he demits office in January 2009. His words were something like a quack claiming that he can cure a chronic patient of a terminal disease within a few weeks. Bush will be lucky if he leaves his office with even a semblance of an agreement on some of the core issues that divide the Israelis and the Palestinians; for instance, the borders of the Palestinian state.

His optimism looks all the more daring when it is realised that it is only now when the countdown for his presidency has begun that Bush has shown some interest in resolving the ticklish Palestinian issue that has festered for 60 years. He wishes to leave an imprint on history by facilitating Israel and the Palestinians thrash out the problems relating to the birth of an independent state of Palestine that will exist alongside the Jewish Israel.

If only wishes could be fulfilled that easily!

Palestine was not the only agenda that President Bush had carried with him when he left Washington early in January for an eight-day visit to the Middle East. He was trying to sell the idea of ‘democracy’ and its accompaniment of free press too, particularly to one of the longest US allies in the region, Egypt.

President Hosni Mubarak would have hardly squirmed under his ‘democracy’ rhetoric: he has heard the message often enough and knows the US is not really going to push him too hard because of the growing influence of the radical ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ party in Egypt and as long as the bogey of ‘Islamist terrorists’ looms in the world.

As was to be expected President Bush did not miss the opportunity during his whirlwind tour of the troubled region to resort to his familiar verbal onslaught against Iran, something that he uses these days in nearly all his public speeches. Iran, said Bush, was the world’s ‘leading sate sponsor of terror’, funnelling arms and funds to many militant groups like Hezbollah and Hamas, and the Shia militias in Iraq. With Iran weighing so much on his mind these days it can be assumed that Iran was an equally important part of the agenda that he carried with him.

In an obvious attempt to build up support for his moves to impose further UN-backed sanctions on Iran, Bush said that Iran had defied the UN and has been trying to destabilise the region by being secretive about is nuclear enrichment programme. He told an audience in the UAE that since Iran posed a ‘danger’ to all nations in the world it should be confronted ‘before it is too late.’ Warning of a US invasion, perhaps.

The impression President Bush had left in the region was that he was seeking to build a bloc of Sunni Arab nations against Shia Iran by playing on the Arab world’s assumed fear of Iran’s nuclear weapons programme.

That the Arab neighbours would be happier without a nuclear-armed Iran goes without saying. But it is doubtful if Bush will be able to play upon their anxiety sufficiently for them to alter their cautious and well- calibrated stand on Iran: the Arab world backs negotiations with Iran and is not ready to endorse any US plan to attack Iran. It is also lukewarm to the Bush plans for squeezing Iran with more stringent sanctions.

Now that he is back in the White House, President Bush would do well to make a post- mortem of the opinion on Arab ‘streets’—as opposed to officials. He would feel terribly disappointed and perhaps humiliated.

One Arab newspaper said Bush had given a prescription (for the Palestinian state) ‘from his pharmacy of illusions and tranquillisers’ because the Palestinian state he was talking about would be built on ‘pillars of salt in the middle of a rainstorm.’ The reality in the region was very different from the rhetoric used by Bush.

The Iranian foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, thought Bush only wanted to create ‘an atmosphere of Iran-phobia’ in the region. He and his countrymen know very well that an ‘Iran-phobia’ in the Middle East, even if it exists, does not match the US vision about it. The royals of Saudi Arabia are perhaps the strongest US allies in the Arab world. Whatever be the nature of their previous relations with Iran lately there has been much ‘improvement’ in those ties—a fact accepted in the West.

The Saudis are not willing to ratify the US-sponsored hard-line measures against Tehran. Not even after Bush’s latest gift to Riyadh: a $20 billion arms package that will include 900 satellite-guided joint direct attack munitions. The Saudis would have been left wondering if that impressive-looking ‘gift’ means much when Bush also announced that Israel would continue to have a ‘qualitative military edge’.

The darts thrown by Bush at Tehran were ill-timed too. It was only a few weeks ago that the collection of US intelligence report had stated that Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons programme way back in 2003. Even if that assessment may not be true anymore the Arab world, including the allies of the US, do not share the US view that they are all under imminent threat of military—nuclear—attack by Iran.

On the other hand, Bush may have unwittingly helped the man he probably hates most: President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad of Iran. The strong words against him that Bush speaks frequently actually work to the Iranian leader’s advantage in his country. He should actually be thanking Bush for his ‘unkind’ words. Western media reports suggest that Ahmedinejad has been gaining unpopularity in his country at a time when the national polls are approaching fast--due in March 2009.

In short, Bush may have ended his Middle East tour by reviving the fortunes of a man he detests while his ‘vision’ for a free Palestinian state would remain as elusive as it has for the last six decades.

- Syndicate Features -

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