Sunday, March 02, 2008

Middle East

It is almost a cliché of American politics. When a president enters into his final 2 years in office, he seeks solace in potential political victories. Congress tends to become increasingly restless as a partner as it seeks, like the rest of the country, a new leader and the next agenda in order to get itself re-elected. Thus the president becomes a lame duck, a seat holder until the next person comes in to take the reigns. The job of the current president is, in essence, not to muck it up too much for the next president.

What this translates into is a leader without a mission. What is he to do if he cannot really effect the agenda at home? Oh, he'll try to use the bully pulpit to press his concerns, but as we saw this past week, the president is often mocked for attempting to do so. That's the real reason most presidents remain mum during the election period - they are leaders without a great deal of power and are prone to being irrelevant or, worse, the butt of a joke.

Hence comes the cliché. Seeking relevance, the president almost always decides to do a lap around the globe and participate in the one area where, constitutionally, they have real power: foreign policy. Reagan did it, as did Clinton. Bush is doing it as well. His trip to Africa (which mirrored Clinton's, a man he mocked and despises) last week was a sad display of a leader who is searching for respect in the larger world while his own country turns the page on his political elegy.

For Reagan and Clinton, this wasn't a particularly striking thing to do. Both had happily dove into foreign policy while in office. One might argue about the effects of their policy decisions, but make no mistake that both men relished in working with other leaders and seeking to leave the world a better place than the one they found when they took office (again, a better place at least in their might argue the results). For Bush, however, a man who has shunned foreign policy and indeed, celebrated the fact that he had little to no experience in it when he took office, turning to this approach in the twilight of his career has been remarkable for both it's hypocrisy and naiveté if not for it's execution. Take, for instance, his attempts to bring peace to Israel. How's that working out for him? From the Washington Post this morning:

Daniel Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator, said that key players in the region are moving beyond the Bush administration. "The feeling is that if you keep the flash points on a lower or somewhat higher flame, it will give you more cards when a new administration comes in," he said, speaking in a phone interview from Israel. "Everyone is sucking up to the Iranians," he added.

The signs of American irrelevance are apparent throughout the region. Even Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, hailed as a potential peacemaker by the Bush administration, mused last week to the Jordanian newspaper al-Dustour that in the future it might be necessary to return to armed struggle against Israel. And Syria, which received an unexpected invitation to Annapolis, believes that the peace summit was "an exercise in public relations" and that Bush has no interest in peace, as Syria's ambassador to Washington, Imad Moustapha put it last week.

Wow, that's gotta make it difficult for Kinda-sleazy Rice. After all, it's her mission to actually make the process work. Bush isn't doing any of the heavy lifting in the negotiations. He doesn't ever want to get his hands dirty. He just tells people what he dreams of and trusts it to them to do the work, just as he's always done in his privileged life. If it works out, then he takes the credit and if it doesn't, then he can throw his loyalist to the wolves and say it wasn't his fault. He tried, after all. More from the WaPo:

Ghaith al-Omari, a former adviser to Abbas and now advocacy director for the American Task Force on Palestine, faulted the Bush administration for not nurturing a process that it started. He noted that the administration has appointed three generals to assess various aspects of the issue, but that few people in the region understand their roles. Rice's two-day visit this week is her first substantive trip since the conference in November.

"There is no push from the Americans," he said. "We are still waiting to see what they will do. It is surprising how little has happened. If you guys are going to run out of steam, why create all these expectations?"

...Neither Hamas nor Iran was invited to Annapolis but, as Ahmadinejad's courting of Mubarak suggests, the administration's effort to divide the region into "moderate" and "extremist" camps has not succeeded. After the phone call between the two men, Iran's foreign minister declared that diplomatic ties with Cairo would soon be restored.

Meanwhile, Hamas has gained popularity as Israel has attempted an economic blockade of Gaza. Hamas bulldozers burst through the Gaza-Egyptian border in January, while Hamas rockets last week reached Ashkelon, an Israeli city of 120,000 that generally had been safe from Hamas attacks.

...Before the Annapolis conference, a group of U.S. foreign policy specialists -- including former national security advisers Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft and former congressman Lee H. Hamilton -- wrote Bush to argue that "a genuine dialogue with the organization is far preferable to its isolation." But State Department spokesman Tom Casey said Friday, "It's pretty hard to say that Hamas has a legitimate role to play in this process if their main policy is to promote terror."
Please, my apologies if that last line made you spit up your beverage via laughter, outrage, or a combination.

There is hope for the region to resolve this latest flare up in it's struggle for peace. As noted above, the US role is irrelevant. It's really up to Israel and the Arab countries to reach some sort of truce and then for the Arab countries to reign in Hamas. Rice will merely be the postal deliverer for the process, the ceremonial postal deliverer that is. Of course, she and Bush will claim credit, but as Haaretz notes, the real work will be done without his involvement:
This is a new situation in which the IDF operates in a wide scope, the television footage is extremely hard to watch, the number of dead Palestinians since Wednesday is close to 90 and the physical damage inflicted is enormous.

All these factors make it easier for Hamas to swerve public opinion its way and direct it towards a large-scale operation in the West Bank that would run deeper than a quiet protest. Arab leaders could soon find the situation to be out of their control.

The problem facing Israel at the moment is how to confine the incursion within the limits of Israel's struggle against Hamas and the rocket barrage, and not turn it into a war that seems to be directed against all Palestinians.

The line between these two stages is tricky and dangerous. Therefore the Israeli government should not give up on trying to get Egypt and the rest of the Arab countries to initiate a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.

No comments: