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Bush: More Talk Than Walk in the Mideast
After eight years of praising George W. Bush as the best friend Israel ever had in the White House, his most ardent Jewish supporters may be having second thoughts as he leaves office.
Even long-standing Bush loyalists like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee accused his administration of "succumbing to Arab pressure," and working to "undermine" Israel's Gaza operation by facilitating a "one-sided" U.N. Security Council resolution calling for an "immediate" cease-fire.
The resolution, which Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice helped draft and supported, would "undermine the prospect for a durable and sustainable" cease-fire, said AIPAC. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had asked Bush to veto the measure, but the best he could get was an abstention, clearing the way for easy passage.
Bush was the first president to endorse Palestinian statehood as "a top priority" of his administration at a time when the Jewish right increasingly rejects the concept. He convened the Annapolis conference to boost Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, repeatedly called for freezing settlements and dismantling illegal outposts, backed Israel's unilateral disengagement from Gaza, blocked Israeli plans to attack Iranian nuclear facilities and broke his promise to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.
Ironically, the more he pressed this agenda, the more he upset his political base of Jewish conservatives and evangelicals, without pleasing the left, which continues to believe his administration drastically worsened the situation through eight years of diplomatic neglect.
In what could be the Mideast epitaph for his administration, Bush ended up pleasing no one. As in so many areas, he could talk the talk, but didn't walk the walk.
As Bush prepares to leave office, is Israel stronger and safer than when he arrived, closer to peace or more accepted internationally?
He vowed: "America will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon." Yet today, Iran has never been closer to joining the nuclear club. Bush's policies have strengthened Iran, contributed to its influence and undermined international cooperation in the anti-Iran effort.
Olmert had expected that Bush would deal with the Iranian nuclear threat before leaving office, but when that seemed unlikely, the Israeli leader appealed for advanced bunker-buster bombs, aerial refueling planes and clearance to fly through Iraqi airspace so Israel could do the job itself. Bush turned him down, convinced any strike would have only limited impact on Iran while sparking extensive retaliation against U.S. forces and interests in the region.
Israel had no choice but to stand down, but it ignored Bush-administration efforts to stop it from taking out Syria's fledgling nuclear program. Despite Washington's opposition to that raid, the Bush administration soon began boasting of Israel's success and touting it as a warning to Iran.
Thanks to the American invasion of Iraq, Iran today is stronger than it was eight years ago. The Sunni-dominated buffer between Iran and Syria-Iraq has been replaced by a U.S.-installed Shi'ite-led, anti-Israel government under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has closer ties to Tehran than to Washington. In fact, al-Maliki flew to Tehran last weekend to assuage any concerns of Iranian leaders about U.S. influence in Iraq under the newly signed security agreement.
Iran today dominates a Shi'ite crescent of influence that spreads across the Middle East to the Mediterranean and down into Gaza, where its Hamas allies, with Iranian training and weapons, are battling Israel.
One thing the right and left here agree on is that the Bush administration is responsible for bringing Hamas to power by pressuring Palestinian head Mahmoud Abbas and Olmert to drop their opposition to the terror group's participation in the 2006 parliamentary elections.
Bush's "insistence on elections in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories enabled Islamist parties with militias to enter the political process and then paralyze it in each place," wrote former Clinton Mideast official Martin Indyk and Richard Haass, who had served in Bush's State Department.
Tony Cordesman, a former Pentagon analyst, said: "I can't think of a public-opinion poll that does not show a sharp deterioration in the U.S. position in the Middle East." Bush leaves "a foreign-policy legacy from hell."
And that's not good news for friends of Israel on the right or the left. President Barack Obama, Cordesman stressed, "will have to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process almost from the ground up."
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a Washington, D.C.-based columnist.