Thursday, July 17, 2008

George Bush and the Diplomacy of Inadvertence

4 March, 2008

The recent Jerusalem Post article, Vanity Fair: Bush approved plot to oust Hamas, gives an insider’s look into decision-making in the Bush White House. While the article deals only with the Palestinian elections and the resulting Hamas victory, it throws light on how this administration arrives at other decisions such as the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, its encouragement of an Israeli invasion of Lebanon.

But let’s start with the article’s focus, the Palestinian elections and their aftermath. In pursuit of what can only be called his Dogma of Democracy Bush not only disregarded input from Abbas and Olmert, both of whom clearly foresaw the Hamas victory and warned the president, but he also chose to ignore the advice of Cheney's chief Middle East adviser David Wurmser who, according to the article, “resigned a month after the Hamas takeover.” Even Muhammad Dahlan, Abbas security chief and designee by Bush to carry out the military coup against Hamas is quoted in the article as saying, “Everyone was against the elections, everyone (that is) except Bush. He (Bush) decided, ‘I need an election. I want elections in the Palestinian Authority.’”

Immediately after Hamas’ election victory, “Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams were entrusted with provoking a Palestinian civil war…” Following his resignation Wurmser said, "it looks to me that what happened wasn't so much a coup by Hamas but an attempted coup by Fatah that was preempted before it could happen.” The article concludes, “Instead of driving its enemies out of power the US-backed Fatah fighters inadvertently provoked Hamas to seize total control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007.” Woops, and here we were led to believe that Hamas was the aggressor!

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Nobody believes Hamas is merely the innocent victim of US-Fateh-Israeli wrath. Following decades of terrorism, of obstructing and derailing Israeli-Palestinian talks, few would sympathize with the Islamist party as victim. But this is not about Hamas. It is all about Bush and the administration’s pursuit of a diplomacy fed by a questionable world-view. Clearly in the instance of the elections Bush policy was a failure as predictable as it was disastrous. Was this a single instance of misjudgment, or does it represent a fundamental failure of Bush policy?

A quick look at today’s Middle East leaves little doubt that things are far worse in 2008 than before Bush was elected president. Following regime change in Afghanistan and Iraq both countries remain in a state of anarchy and civil war. In Afghanistan NATO commitment to the war is faltering in face of a resurgent and apparently undefeatable Taliban. In Iraq the United States is faring no better, facing defections by its few allies in what appears increasingly another Vietnam. And on Israel’s war fronts, Gaza and Lebanon, as he achieved with Iran Bush policy has inadvertently promoted more powerful and popular enemies in Hamas and Hezbollah.

Nor is the Bush failure from his diplomacy of inadvertence limited to the military sphere. Before and after his promotion of the disastrous Palestinian elections Bush opted out of an Israel-Palestine peace process, which atrophied as a result. Where Bush did choose to get involved he vetoed Israeli contact with Syria in face of that country’s public invitation to return to the negotiation table. But most dangerous from a regional standpoint is the fallout from Bush diplo-military decision-making regarding Iran.

Did Bush-Cheney-Rice set out to promote Iranian hegemony, probably not. Were they aware of the potential impact of regime change in Iraq on promoting resurgent Iran? Evidently not. But consider what was a matter of public record. Iraq and Iran were regional adversaries, each fearful and respectful of the other. That they had, within the decade, fought a long and bloody war in which the United States had armed and supported its ally, Sadam Hussein. Iraq and Afghanistan served to restrain Iranian ambitions. That restraint ended with regime change in those countries. Should that have been obvious before the fact?

Whose advice did Bush seek in the run-up to the decision to invade? Not the Saudis or Israelis, arguably the two best informed on the topic; nor, according to retired CIA head George Tennant, did the administration turn to, in fact chose to ignore, the CIA whose analyses, according to Tennant, did not accord with what the Administration wanted to hear. Israelis at all levels of decision-making, intelligence, military and political strongly advised against invading Iraq. Iran, they explained and not Iraq posed the greater danger. And even in the case of Iran Israel advocated diplomacy over war.

As regards the impact of the two-term Bush presidency on Israel, it is interesting to speculate on how the Middle East might have looked today had a less ideological administration won the presidency in 2000. Would a more pragmatic successor administration to Clinton have actively followed up on the near success of Camp David, 2000; might they have been able to bring post-Arafat Palestinians and Israelis further down the road to peace? Would a president unburdened by the blinders of a worldview reduced to an Axis of Evil have encouraged rather than obstructed Israel engaging Syria as follow up to that other nearly successful negotiation during the Clinton years? Would a less emotion-driven administration have encouraged Israel’s ill-fated Lebanon adventure as part of a strategy to contain Iran? Would there even have been the Iraqi debacle to free up Iran, to allow that country the strategic opportunity to flex muscle and assert its hegemonic and nuclear ambitions? Would a less dogmatic, more rational administration have even considered overthrowing Sadam in light of his obvious strategic value as counterweight to Iran?

The problem of a misguided and mismanaged superpower is in its collateral as well as intentional damage. It may be argued that the United States deserves the fallout from the Bush legacy since we twice elected him. Yet it is the entire world which is condemned to live with the Bush legacy, and for many years to come. For Israel collateral damage created by Bush is having an impact on peace and war. On the peace side the debacle of the Palestinian elections had a direct and negative impact on a possible accommodation with the Palestinians (although I, for one, doubt Abbas would have or could have pulled it off anyway), and a possible re-engagement with Syria to conclude the nearly completed agreement over Golan. On the war side, continuing terrorism from the West Bank leading to the costly construction of a wall separating the two peoples; rockets from Gaza; and the Lebanon II debacle which resulted in a Hezbollah more popular and politically influential than before the war.

Possibly any Israeli prime minister is obliged to identify with the incumbent US president, but Olmert’s association with THIS president does not enhance his or Israel’s credibility and standing in the world. And the decisions Olmert appears to have made in identification with, or in order to appease Bush will be around to haunt Israel long after George W leaves the world stage.

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