Bush’s Middle East misfire
BY SETH GITELL
Friday, March 14, 2003 -- It’s hard to say to whom President George W. Bush’s bizarre statement on the Middle East was intended this morning -- conservative/isolationist commentator Patrick J. Buchanan or embattled British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Bush’s statement was strange because it came square in the middle of the ramp up for war with Iraq. For an administration that has made a fetish out of staying on message, Bush’s rare speech seemed out of place with everything else he has been doing in recent weeks. It’s possible that the out-of-the-blue statement expressing hope for Middle East peace came as a veiled response to Buchanan’s offensive argument (delivered yesterday during his appearance on Don Imus’s radio program) that a cabal of influential Jewish Bush advisers -- such as Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, the chairman of the Defense Policy Board -- have promoted a war with Iraq so as to achieve the interests of Israel’s Likud Party. Without getting too much into the "substance" of Buchanan’s argument, Bush’s statement could be an attempt to deflect this view which is, disturbingly, catching on; another version was put forward by Democratic Congressman Jim Moran.
Another likely scenario is that Bush needed to give at least some kind of comment on the Middle East to provide cover for Blair, who for his own political reasons needs to be seen as helping along the cause of the Palestinians. Blair has been far ahead of the Bush Administration in trying to foster negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians. Bush’s picking up this cause -- even in part -- serves as a bone to Blair, who has put himself on the line for the seemingly inevitable war with Iraq.
Or Bush’s comments could have come out of his week of telephone diplomacy. Perhaps he has been so out of touch with other foreign leaders that he didn’t realize how much of a hot button issue this is for even those European leaders most sympathetic to Bush’s push for war with Iraq. Consider how novel it is that Bush will travel this weekend to the Azores to meet Blair and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar. The news of the diplomatic summit is surprising because it is so rare for Bush to engage in diplomacy -- especially overseas. This kind of diplomatic activity was commonplace in other administrations -- including the similarly hawkish and muscular administration of Ronald Reagan.
Ultimately a war with Iraq that results in Iraqi president Saddam Hussein’s ouster could help the cause of Middle East peace because it removes another ruthless dictator from an always dangerous neighborhood. As recently as last year, Hussein was providing cash payments to the families of suicide bombers. That is not a reason for America to fight a war. Still it may be one positive benefit of a successful war.
But nobody really knows what will happen yet. There is still the messy business of war and the related series of unintended consequences that spring from it. Bush’s Middle East speech today only seemed to highlight the administration’s weaknesses -- a disturbing thing to see with war so nearingly upon us.
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Issue Date: March 14, 2003
"Today's Jolt" archives: 2003 2002 2001
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