Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The desperate and pathetic lame-duckery of George W. Bush heads to the Middle East

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Keep checking in here for all the latest from New Hampshire -- we've posted a lot already, and there are many more posts to come -- but, lest we forget, the earth continues to rotate on its axis and revolve around the sun at the edge of the Milky Way. Which is to say, there are other things going on in the world, including the president's -- Bush's, that is -- lame-duck trip to the Middle East.

He left today, and what a good time it was to leave. With so much of the attention on the primaries, and with so much of the current political rhetoric directed squarely at this loathsome man and his loathsome presidency, what was there to lose? -- what is there to lose, in fact? Certainly not his own credibility, of which there is none left -- perhaps whatever is left of America's credibility, not that there's much left, so much having been squandered, so much having been blown to smithereens by this loathsome man and his loathsome presidency.

How amusing, then, to come across headlines like this one, at CBS: "Bush's Last-Chance Trip To The Middle East."

Last chance?

Last chance for what? -- to do what?

To travel the world from the comfort of Air Force One?

No, not quite -- presumably, this is the last chance for Bush to make peace in the Middle East. Or not quite. It won't be peace in Iraq, and it won't be peace with Iran, and it won't be to promote democracy in Egypt, Syria, or elsewhere, and certainly not in Saudi Arabia, a despotism of Bush Family friends. No, it is to be a deal over Palestine, a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yes, Bush wants his moment in the sun, just as Blair had his with Adams and Paisley at his side.

But Bush is no Blair and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict isn't Northern Ireland, and it's quite laughable to think that Bush is in a position to achieve a lasting resolution. A deal there may be, a deal for the cameras, hand-shaking all around, but any such deal would be hollow, a sham.

"President Bush is no longer trying to transform the Middle East from afar," declares Jon Alterman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), "he's trying to manage it in incremental ways by arm-twisting and jawboning leaders in intimate, private sessions." Alterman is an expert, the director of the Middle East Program at CSIS, but his declaration is riddled with absurdity. Bush knows nothing of how to transform the Middle East. He has been all talk, idealistic talk, meaningless talk, throughout his presidency. And he is heading to the region not to get anything done but to make it look like he's trying to get something done, yet another attempt to seem to be a serious leader, a figure of consequence, to grapple with his increasing lame-duckery.

"I think the president will face a tough act convincing the Arabs and the Palestinians that this administration is serious about getting heavily involved in the Israeli-Palestinian process and has an answer to the problems of either Hamas or Iran," contends the Saban Center's Bruce Riedel, another expert, a former NSC and CIA official. It is a tough act he is not nearly talented enough to perform, a "tough sell," as the AP puts it, he is not nearly credible enough to make. Simply put, he has done too much damage to himself, his country, the region, and the Muslim world to close a deal of any significant purpose. Is it any wonder his visit is being greeted with such anger and skepticism on the Arab Street?

And yet, with so many looking past him to his successor, and with a vote of some consequence today in New Hampshire, he is off to make still more of a mockery of his presidency. Here, to sum it up, is Steve Bell's fine cartoon in today's Guardian:

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