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By Micah Halpern

Tuesday January 1, 2008


Let's play "association." If I say "New Year" chances are pretty good that you will say "resolutions." It's the American way. Every new year Americans from Phoenix Arizona to Butte Montana and anywhere else honestly and sincerely make their resolutions. And before January turns into February the vast majority of those resolutions have been broken. People in Crawford Texas are no exception. George Bush is no exception.

On January 8th the president and his entourage will be heading out for the Middle East. George Bush has resolved to set the record straight in the Middle East.

Officially, President Bush will be using this, his first official visit to the Middle East since taking office to "...follow up on the progress made at Annapolis in helping Israelis and Palestinian to advance their efforts ..."

True enough, the presidential agenda on this trip is to follow through on the work that was begun in Annapolis, but the work begun in Annapolis, truly had less to do with Israelis and Palestinians than it did with the Arab world and Iran. If this trip was all about Israelis and Palestinians, then why are Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt all crowded into the agenda? The answer comes in the form of a throw away line in the official announcement outlining this trip which states that the president will use this opportunity " reaffirm the enduring commitment of the United States to the security of our allies in the Middle East ... and our close work with them to combat terrorism and extremism ..."

In Annapolis, Israeli/Palestinian peace was the premise, but there was a very important and delicate subtext. In Annapolis, the unstated objective of the United States was to bring Arab and Muslim countries in concert with the United States of America in an effort to thwart Iran and Iran's nuclear objectives. And the president almost pulled it off.

He had them in the palm of his hand. While in Annapolis George Bush had the most powerful and most wealthy Arab nations just on the verge of being convinced that he and the United States could actually lead the Arab world in a movement against another Muslim country. He had them almost ready to follow his lead and squelch Iran's nuclear aspirations. He was, as the saying goes, just about to put the genie back in the bottle.

That support lasted exactly one week, and then the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) was made public. George Bush became his own worst enemy. The Arab countries who had quietly stepped forward to join the United States against Iran pulled immediately back. Thousands of hours of diplomatic work was lost. And now, in the course of an eight day trip, President Bush is trying to win it back.

Quite frankly, I do not have high hopes for President Bush's upcoming trip to the Middle East.

George Bush may have determination and resolve, but his goal of reassuring the Arabs of the region that the Annapolis Conference sub text is actually a primary text and that the US still stands firmly behind the message delivered in Annapolis - that Iran is a real threat and it is crucial to stand shoulder to shoulder against Iran's development of nuclear technology - has evaporated into thin Middle East air. No visit, no cajoling, no pleading will succeed in convincing the Arab world for a second time to join the enemy against one of their own.

As for "helping Israelis and Palestinians advance their efforts ..." the sentiment is sincere, but the President knows the situation. He knows that both Israelis and Palestinians will complain about non-compliance and about how the other side has broken the agreement - again. And Israel and the Palestinians need to know that George Bush, just like the many American presidents before him who sought to bring peace to the Middle East, is driven by American interests. And right now American interests lie in trying to isolate Iran and unify Arabs against the Islamic state. And before putting pressure on Iran the Arab world will demand that the United States pressure Israel to accommodate the Palestinians.

Despite his affinity for Israel and his religious love of Jerusalem, this President of the United States will agree to those Arab demands. And along the way President Bush will make his pilgrimage to the Western Wall and visit the Western Wall Tunnels and tour the excavation sites around the Second Temple. This was the Temple built by Herod during the time of Jesus and it has significance and value for George Bush. He will touch the stones and admire the architecture and marvel at the remarkable feats of construction that brought and still bring people from all around the world to Jerusalem.

Jerusalem shuts down when a United States president comes to town. I have sat on special busses accompanying the presidential motorcade as it drives along. Israelis line the streets, waving. I wave back. Not this trip. The excitement isn't there. Once again, the outcome is predictable. In the aftermath of this trip Bush and Condi Rice will pressure Israel to move ahead on the Road Map despite their reservations and despite the lack of follow-up on the part of the Palestinians especially on security issues and the lack of Palestinian control over their terrorists.

I hope the President has made some other resolutions for this New Year. Maybe those will last a little longer than his Middle East resolve.

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4 June 2017 12:14 PM in Columns

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