BUSH IN THE MIDDLE EAST

Advancing the “Freedom” Agenda

From the March 2008 Trumpet Print Edition »

Did President Bush’s recent tour through the Mideast lay a foundation for peace, or war? By Stephen Flurry

Two days before President Bush left for his Middle East freedom tour in January, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps sent five speedboats to “buzz” three U.S. Navy warships in the Strait of Hormuz. As the speedboats maneuvered aggressively around the American fleet, two of them dropped mysterious objects into the water. Minutes later, someone radioed a threat to the Navy men aboard the ships: “I am coming to you—you will explode in a few minutes.” The provocation ended moments later, after the Iranian boats abruptly turned and fled the scene unscathed.

A few days after the incident, the Pentagon admitted the U.S. had no way of knowing whether the threatening signal came from the speedboats or from a prankster on shore. But in flinching during a game of chicken with five Iranian motorboats, the United States of America transmitted an unmistakably clear signal throughout the Middle East: American might is no match for Tehran’s will.

The U.S. Navy’s reluctance to confront an openly hostile enemy in order to keep the waters “calm” in the Persian Gulf on January 6 is emblematic of President Bush’s newly revised policy for peace in the Middle East, as evidenced by his eight-day tour through the region.

Give Them a State—Then Deal With Terrorists

The twofold purpose of the president’s trip was to build a united Arab front against Iran and to breathe new life into Israel’s peace negotiations with the Palestinians. On the issue of Palestinian statehood, the “road map” the president laid out in 2002 stipulated that the U.S. would not support an independent Arab state until Palestinian leaders engaged in a sustained fight to “dismantle” terrorist infrastructures. The Bush administration now views that condition as an obstacle, rather than a stepping stone, to peace.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice explained this policy reversal to a group of reporters aboard Air Force One on January 11: “[T]he reason that we haven’t really been able to move forward on the peace process for a number of years is that we were stuck in the sequentiality of the road map. So you had to do the first phase of the road map before you moved on to the third phase of the road map, which was the actual negotiations of final status.

“What Annapolis did was to break that tight sequentiality and to say, you can do these in parallel ….”

President Bush also stressed the importance of working simultaneously on establishing a state while confronting the problem of terrorism. At Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s residence on January 9, Bush said, “The goal is for there to be a clear vision of what a state would look like, so that, for example, reasonable Palestinian leadership can say, here’s your choice: You can have the vision of Hamas, which is dangerous and will lead to war and violence, or you can have the vision of a state, which should be hopeful.”

But making painful concessions in the hope that terrorists will choose freedom and justice didn’t work in 2005 when Israel handed Gaza to the Palestinians. Local Gazans, remember, freely elected Hamas into a majority in 2006, leading to Hamas’s military coup in 2007.

“The establishment of the state of Palestine is long overdue,” the president said on January 10. “The Palestinian people deserve it. And it will enhance the stability of the region, and it will contribute to the security of the people of Israel.SDRq

The truth is exactly the opposite. Establishing a Palestinian state without dismantling terrorist networks will threaten Israel’s continued existence. Less than six years ago, the president blasted the Palestinian leadership for being corrupt and for encouraging, not opposing, terrorism.

Today, with the situation on the ground having deteriorated significantly, the Bush administration has somehow deluded itself into thinking Palestinian statehood will improve Israel’s security.

Abbas’s Platform for Peace

During his press conference with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on January 10, President Bush heaped praise on his Arab counterpart, saying Abbas was elected after campaigning on a platform of peace.

The president spoke about the clear difference between the “vision of Hamas in Gaza” and the vision of Mahmoud Abbas’s team in Ramallah. Abbas added to President Bush’s comments by calling the Hamas takeover a coup and insisting that they must “retreat.”

Yet, even a cursory review of the facts on the ground will reveal how Abbas’s vision for peace is aligned more closely with Hamas than it is with Israel. A year ago, in a speech commemorating the 42nd anniversary of Fatah, the Palestinian peacemaker said, “We should put our internal fighting aside and raise our rifles only against the Israeli occupation.”

And yet, even as Abbas works openly to heal the breach between Fatah and Hamas, President Bush turns a blind eye to the obvious, claiming that Abbas “knows that a handful of people want to dash the aspirations of the Palestinian people by creating chaos and violence.” You would think he knows that, especially after last summer, when Hamas terrorists in Gaza hurled screaming Fatah officials off the tops of tall buildings.

Since booting Fatah from Gaza, Hamas has bombarded southern Israel with daily Kassam rocket attacks. The day before President Bush ended his Mideast tour, Hamas launched 28 rockets at the Israeli city of Sderot, one of them hitting a home where a mother and daughter were injured. That same day, Hamas claimed responsibility for murdering a volunteer from Ecuador who was working in a kibbutz near the Gaza border.

Israel responded to the attacks with a large-scale incursion into central Gaza to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure, killing 18 Palestinians, including the son of a top Hamas official who helped mastermind last summer’s takeover of Gaza.

And how did Mahmoud Abbas respond to the terrorist attack? He ignored it—focusing instead on Israel’s retaliation. He called it an Israeli “massacre” and accused the Jews of “ugly crimes,” saying it was a slap in the face of President Bush’s peacemaking efforts.

The U.S. State Department defended Israel’s right to act in self-defense. Meanwhile, Mahmoud Abbas—President Bush’s partner in peace—threatened to resign if Israel’s “military escalation and daily killings” continued, according to a top pa official.

The day after Israel retaliated, Abbas phoned Hamas thug Mahmoud al-Zahar to offer his condolences to the senior Hamas official whose son, a gunman, was killed during the Israeli raid.

Olmert and Netanyahu

Prior to his Middle East tour, President Bush intended to snub any Israeli leader who opposed the Annapolis process, including Likud opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu. Shortly before the president left for the Middle East, Netanyahu angrily blamed Ehud Olmert’s office for blocking a possible meeting with the president. In the end, President Bush changed his mind and decided to meet with the opposition leader, indicating that Washington is at least preparing for the possibility of working with an Israeli government that opposes the Annapolis process.

During his 45-minute session with President Bush on the morning of January 10, Netanyahu said, “Jerusalem belongs to the Jewish people and will remain under Israeli sovereignty for eternity.” He also presented the president with a 2,000-year-old coin bearing a Hebrew inscription, revealing the depth of Jewish roots in Jerusalem.

After concluding his meeting with Netanyahu, President Bush wasted little time in revealing his strong opposition to the policies of Likud. At an afternoon press conference, the president said, “I know Jerusalem is a tough issue. … I fully understand that finding a solution to this issue will be one of the most difficult challenges on the road to peace, but that is the road we have chosen to walk.”

Quite unlike the Likud leader, President Bush is willing to divide Jerusalem, which is why he staunchly supports Ehud Olmert. At a dinner hosted by the prime minister the same day the president met with Netanyahu, President Bush referred to Olmert as a “strong leader.” This, of course, is the same Ehud Olmert who in June 2005 said, “We are tired of fighting, we are tired of being courageous, we are tired of winning, we are tired of defeating our enemies.”

Prior to being elected prime minister in March 2006, Olmert campaigned on a promise to remove tens of thousands of Jews from settlements in Judea and Samaria.

Mr. Olmert presented his plan for West Bank withdrawal to President Bush at the White House in May 2006. At a press conference on May 23, the president expressed concern about creating a state for a people who reject Israel’s right to exist. “The only thing that worries me about the plan,” Bush said, “is that Hamas has said they want to destroy Israel. And the reason that worries me is, how can you have two states side by side in peace if one of the partners does not recognize the other state’s right to exist? … I assured the prime minister that our position is steady and strong, that Hamas must change.”

Now, it appears, President Bush is more concerned that Benjamin Netanyahu might return to power than he is about the State of Israel existing side by side with a state that denies Israel’s right to exist and foments terrorist acts against Jews. At the dinner with Olmert and his coalition partners, President Bush had lengthy discussions with the right-wing leaders of the coalition—Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman and Shas Chairman Eli Yishai. Before leaving, Bush urged the coalition partners to take care of Olmert “so he will stay in power.” The Jerusalem Post referred to the president’s remarks as a blatant attempt to intervene in Israeli politics.

Bush’s meddling, however, may have backfired. Within a week of the meeting, Lieberman’s party withdrew from the coalition, leaving Olmert with a slim majority in the Knesset. Lieberman’s decision to break the alliance came the day after a meeting between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators over the division of Jerusalem.

In response to the split, Olmert’s office said there would be no policy change from the land-for-peace map laid out at Annapolis.

But there may be a change in government. And the damage done by the Annapolis process and President Bush’s visit to Israel appears to be hastening that transformation.

Keynote Address

Presidential aides referred to Bush’s speech in Abu Dhabi on January 13 as the centerpiece of his eight-day trip. In it, the president outlined his strategy for fighting against the state sponsors of terror. He aimed his harshest criticism at Iran, calling it the “world’s leading state sponsor of terror.” He said, “The fight against the forces of extremism is the great ideological struggle of our time. And in this fight, our nations have a weapon more powerful than bombs or bullets. It is the desire for freedom and justice written into our hearts by Almighty God—and no terrorist or tyrant can take that away.”

He pointed to Mahmoud Abbas as proof that this idealistic strategy works, saying Abbas was “committed to peace and reconciliation.”

Then, with several statements that must have alienated even the most moderate Arab leaders, the president celebrated America’s system of governance. “We know that democracy is the only form of government that treats individuals with the dignity and equality that is their right.” He continued further, “We know from experience that democracy is the only system of government that yields lasting peace and stability.”

In reference to Japan’s democratic transformation after World War II, the president stated proudly, “This transformation would not have been possible without America’s presence and perseverance over many decades.”

Not that you would expect him to denounce the U.S. form of governance, but with all the problems America is facing at home, surely the president’s speechwriters could have drafted something more circumspect. Even after World War II, as democracy’s influence around the world reached its high-water mark, Winston Churchill acknowledged its obvious limitations with this famous remark: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

Groveling Before the Saudis

The day before his scheduled return to the States, President Bush’s peacemaking policy hit another low mark during his stop in Saudi Arabia. In an interview with reporters about his meeting with Saudi King Abdullah, the president said, “My point to His Majesty is going to be, when consumers have less purchasing power because of high prices of gasoline—in other words, when it affects their families, it could cause this economy to slow down.” And a slowdown for America’s economy, the president continued, means less barrels of oil purchased. It would be helpful, Bush said, if opec would increase its level of production in order to drive down the cost of oil.

The Saudi oil minister rebuffed the leader of the free world with this snippy response: “We will raise production when the market justifies it.” Adding to Bush’s humiliation, according to Investor’s Business Daily (ibd), just hours before the president asked the world’s largest oil supplier for help, he promised the Saudis a $20 billion arms sale package, though it hasn’t yet been approved by Congress. “All the begging and bribing only proved Saudi Arabia still has us over a barrel of oil—and in the crosshairs of Islamic extremists,” wrote the ibd. “Despite rhetoric about our so-called ally’s cooperation in the war on terror, it’s still teaching anti-Western hatred in its textbooks and schools, still spreading radical Wahhabism to our shores, still freeing terrorists, still giving immunity to al Qaeda financiers such as Yasin Kadi, and still allowing clerics to rally Saudi’s sons to join the al Qaeda insurgents in Iraq” (January 15).

Three Hours With Mubarak

The day before President Bush arrived in Sharm el-Sheikh for the last leg of his journey, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak warned the U.S. in a news conference that if Iran developed a nuclear arsenal, the threat must be dealt with peacefully. “There is no need for the use of force. Use of force will lead to very serious consequences in the region and the world,” Mubarak said.

Apart from Israel, Egypt has been the second-leading recipient of U.S. aid over the past three decades. During that time, Egypt has been a cornerstone on which Washington often established its policy for peace in the Middle East. In recent months, however, Egypt’s relationship with the United States and Israel has cooled considerably. The U.S. and Israel have both criticized Egypt for not doing enough to restrict the flow of arms across its border with Gaza. Conversely, according to Cairo newspapers, Egyptian officials weren’t happy with President Bush’s Abu Dhabi speech. In praising certain Arab states for their democratic reforms, the president conspicuously left Egypt off the list.

Bush’s meeting with Mubarak on January 16 was cordial, but the fact that he spent just three hours with the Egyptian leader at the tail end of an eight-day, six-nation tour is a sign in itself of weakening ties between the two nations. According to the New York Times, their joint appearance at Sharm el-Sheikh wasn’t even agreed upon by both sides until the last minute.

Adding to this strain is the thaw in relations between Egypt and Iran, a development that is prophesied in the Bible (see article, page 31). This reconciliation, Stratfor wrote on January 2, has substantial implications. “Egypt is the center of gravity of the Arab world, and certainly one of the major centers of the Sunni world. Iran is the center of the Shiite world. Until now, there has been a struggle over the future relationship between Iran and the countries of the Arabian Peninsula. An opening between Egypt and Iran changes the entire dynamic of the Islamic world. Until recently, Egypt has played an extremely quiet role. If it opens ties with Iran, it is certainly a signal that it is prepared to play a more active, important and unpredictable role.”

Despite all this, the president returned home convinced that the forces for good are winning the great ideological struggle of our time, as he called it in Abu Dhabi. “The truth of the matter,” he told a reporter toward the end of his trip, “is that freedom is advancing quite amazingly in the Middle East.”

In actual fact, it’s the policies of appeasement that are advancing with breathtaking speed.

This is exactly the way God said it would be in the latter days. “For when they shall say, Peace and safety,” the Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:3, “then sudden destruction comes upon them.” Recent history teaches this same lesson. What we know, Melanie Phillips wrote in her blog at the Spectator on January 13, “because history tells us this over and over again, is that appeasement invariably brings not peace but war; and that when the world favors aggressors and further victimizes their victims, countless more foot soldiers are recruited to the cause of violence.

“In that known context, the damage done by Bush’s visit to Israel is incalculable as a signal of surrender to the whole Arab and Muslim world, which understands what it means better than the Americans do themselves; and just off-stage, Iran is waiting, watching and preparing.”

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