Saturday, December 06, 2008

Legacy of failure

George Bush -- still with 45 days left -- spoke last night at the Saban Forum in Washington. The speech was another installment in the "Bush Legacy" project being run by Karl Rove. The obvious intent of the speech was to claim credit for any positive development in the Middle East over the last 8 years, and thus stake a claim to any real progress actually made in the future by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Not unsurprisingly, the speech's omissions and unspoken assumptions reveal a lot more about the state of US policy in the Middle East than its grandiose assertions.

First, given that the speechwriters must have searched far and wide for anything positive to say about political reform in the Middle East, it's telling that the speech makes no mention of Kuwait, easily the most democratic country in the Gulf and one with women cabinet ministers in substantive positions. So what happened? The fact-checkers realized that a mention would have been awkward since the Emir has suspended the parliament (national assembly) until at least January in a row over the accountability of ministers to it.

And thus the Arab country where Bush is probably at his most popular had to be left out. But how much shame can there really be in a suspension of parliament? After all, the representative in Canada of George Bush's friend Queen Elizabeth has suspended parliament on the advice of George Bush's friend Stephen Harper, for the transparent purpose of avoiding a loss of power. Even the Emir of Kuwait would balk at so obvious a motive.

Anyway, Bush's apparent prize project in the speech was Iraq and its place in the War on Terror. Needless to say, Mumbai was nowhere to be mentioned, even though Mumbai makes clear that, as Indian analysts have pointed out, one consequence of the War on Terror is "Jihadistan", the combination of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq, putting domestic and international terrorism and the ideology and expertise to implement it in one complete package. But George Bush looks at the map of the region and sees just one big problem -- the fairly stable country in the middle of his Jihadistan: Iran. He wants Iran to be a full player in it too.

However the real prize project is of course Israel. And the speech is a perfect illustration of the neocon free lunch: the belief that acceptance of Israel in the region will come naturally with democracy promotion, because after all, "democracies don't war". But there is so little evidence for this thesis. How many Arab democracies sat down at the table during the Annapolis Israel-Palestine process? More to the point, how many would have sat down had they been more democratic?

It promises to be a very frustrating final 6 weeks of Bush. Are the media really going to let him ride in the Dallas sunset thinking how great a president he was? It looks that way.

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