Monday, January 21, 2008

Bush Middle East Tour: No sadly, not a joke

The founder and board chairman of one of America's largest restaurant chains sitting beside me on a NY bound jet was fascinated to learn of my work for religion and peace on the international level. "What do you think of Bush's trip to the Middle East? I mean I voted for the guy, but it's a joke isn't it?" "Don't expect progress from this tour," was my answer. The first and main reason to abstain from hope from this tour is related to the powerlessness of the players posing in the pictures.

President Bush hovers at the lowest approval ratings of any US President in recent memory, recently presided over the unqualified repudiation of his policies through the midterm electoral loss of both houses, and now struggles to manage massive indicators of economic downturn (including China and Abu Dabi in deals for Citibank's $18 bn shortfall, Merril Lynch's $ 8 bn fourth quarter loss, the Morgan Stanely $5.6 bn 4th quarter loss, and much else). President Abbas lost control of Gaza to Hamas in democratic elections, and whose Fatah party are in shootouts and violent confrontations with Hamas in Gaza, and Olmert gasps for air in the thin and unforgiving political atmosphere following the Lebanon attack-and-military-debacle, as well as investigations related to personal, corruption scandal.

One might imagine Abbas to be the most courageous of these three considering the extreme risk any Muslim figure - especially one from the region - takes when engaged in real or imagined collaboration with US and/or Israel. But apart from the possible courage of Mr. Abbas, and whatever good might be ascribed to Messrs Bush and Olmert, the fact is that none exercises sufficient sovereignty, enjoys sufficient positive good will, or commands a sufficient, domestic majority to implement anything they might agree upon with one another. None (save perhaps Mr. Abbas) are even in any way remotely identified with peace. All three currently suffer under the persistent weight of military misadventures (Lebanon for Olmert, Iraq for Bush, and Gaza skirmishes for Abbas).

Poor Abbas was humiliated and Olmert mocked by Egypt's willingness to transport 2,000 Gazan Hajjis directly into the strip contra the Abbas-Olmert plan for their return to Gaza from Mecca. Thus the political, economic, and military insufficiency of these dialogue partners preclude the possible expectation of peace or progress from these conversations.

The second reason the Bush, Middle East tour bodes no hope for peace, is due to the addled and unfocused agenda for the journey. It was called a peace mission though a major purpose what to foment enmity and belligerence toward a major country in the region (Iran). Bush was overt and unashamed in his effort to rally Gulf Arabs into an anti-Iran bloc. He was bent on further isolating Tehran diplomatically and economically, without giving up the option of a military attack on Iran. This bellicose, anti-Iran quality of the tour, defines the word peace out of proper analysis of the tour. And even this met with no success. "The Arabs are afraid of Iran, especially the Saudis and the emirs who rule the small oil-rich states situated just across the Gulf from the Persian giant," writes Scott McLeod out of Cairo for Time, but while "they are inclined to agree with Bush's worries about Iran's nuclear intentions. But they are even more concerned about another U.S. war in the Gulf. Arabs would never want Washington to get too cozy with Tehran. But they've had enough Texas gunslinging."

The second contaminant to "peace seeking," was the cap-in-hand supplication for more and cheaper oil from Saudi King Abdullah. Bush's plea drew little sympathy from oil-rich Saudi Arabia, which said production levels appear normal, despite Bush's odd declaration that he thinks "thinks Abdullah understands the pain Americans are suffering at the pump," Are we talking about the same Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah who gave the Bush family $127,600 in jewelry and other presents last year, including a diamond-and-sapphire jewelry set for first lady Laura Bush that was valued at $95,500. This is the man Mr. Bush is sure understands the pain Americans are suffering at the pump?

The third and most egregious part of the tour that offends the notion of peace is the fact that, far more than behaving like a genuine peace ambassador, Mr. Bush instead resembled most closely an arms merchant. Presently a nuclear nation, Pakistan and US ally Musharaf teeter on the brink of implosion and falling into the hands of radical, militant clergy. Data from Fiscal Year Series report of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) of the Department of Defense explains that the United States signed arms transfer agreements with Pakistan in excess of $3.5 billion. The late Dr. Bhutto could not see through US efforts and Condi's request to help transition Pakistan from military rule. Now in the name of "peace" president Bush offers Israel a $30 billion arms deal, and Saudi Arabia (the home origin of all 9-11 "bombers") a 20 billion dollar arms deal. In essence the Bush notion of being on a mission for peace is to have the United States arm to the teeth, and intensify internecine "Muslim" hatreds, in the worst tinderbox and most unstable theatre of incurable hatred our race has ever known.

At the end of his negotiations with Abbas and Olmert, his efforts to foment tensions in the region, his supplication for more and cheaper oil, and his efforts to broker 50 billion dollars in US arms sales to the most strife ridden and unstable area in the world, and despite the fact that neither Israel nor its Arab neighbors assured Bush that they will do what the United States asks on issues ranging from democratic reform and unauthorized Israeli housing expansion to high gas prices, Bush nevertheless seemed tickled at the end of his tour. "I'm feeling quite feisty here," Bush said Tuesday, pronouncing himself to be in "a great mood" as the closely watched trip drew to a close. A day earlier he had collected enormous gold medallions in Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia, accepting the Saudi medal with a slight bow of the head and a double kiss for his host the king.

Feisty perhaps. A joke? No sadly, not a joke.