Bush Speeches Reflected an Inability to Evolve

Bush Speeches Reflected an Inability to Evolve
Osama Al Sharif, osama@mediaarabia.com

President George W. Bush was not about to spoil Israel’s 60th anniversary celebrations by talking about such irritating things like the continuing plight of the Palestinians, ending occupation and implementing international law. In his view, neither the occasion nor the venue, the Knesset, was suitable to mention such issues. Instead, the US president went into an emotional oration that praised the state of Israel and its democracy while confirming America’s unfettered support of guarding its security against the threats of terrorists and other enemies both foreign and domestic.

It was an honest and straightforward speech because it summed up the speaker’s convictions, vision and comprehension of contemporary affairs. Israeli leaders were jubilant not because of what Bush has said, but because of what he had failed to say.

The Arabs and the Palestinians in particular were left fuming. Amid accusations of bias and indifference, Bush and his entourage flew to Saudi Arabia and from there to Egypt. The president was unapologetic and none of his senior staff acted as if damage control was needed.

And then Bush delivered another speech, this time at the opening of the World Economic Forum at Sharm El-Sheikh. This time he preached about reform, democracy and the benevolence of the United States. And when he talked about his famous vision of delivering a state to the Palestinians he shrouded his promise with audacious hope that no one knew its source and authenticity.

Again the Arabs were left fuming and puffing. Bush appeared to be floating in his own twilight zone, cut off from reality and buffered against the pleas and advice of his moderate allies in the region.

The Bush presidency had come full circle after eight years in power. It had no strategy for peace in the Middle East and it ended up with none. It talked about democracy and reform in the region but offered two poor examples of how both can be gifted from the outside in Iraq and Afghanistan. It started with a poor understanding of the most complex geopolitical hotspots, and proved to the world that it had learned nothing from the fiascos it helped create.

As far as the messages that Bush delivered in Jerusalem and Sharm El -Sheikh, few should really bother with their credibility and effects. The peace process was already in a ditch before the president’s speech at the Knesset, so nothing would change. And Arab views on America’s call for reform and democracy have been echoed repeatedly when the president first made them few years ago.

The problem with the Bush administration has been its inability to evolve politically in a fast-changing world. It has always been an ideological dinosaur driven by far-right principles and beliefs of political and military unilateralism, religious dogmatism and avarice capitalism. Its record on supporting democracy, human rights and personal freedoms is dismal and its message on such issues reflects political convenience rather than innate devotion.

On supporting Israel the Bush administration has indeed been more than devoted. In the aftermath of 9/11, Israel, under Ariel Sharon, successfully merged its anti-Arafat, anti-Hamas and anti-resistance campaign into the larger mantra of America’s war on terrorism. The twining of the two crusades, Israel vs. Palestinian national resistance and Hezbollah, and the US chasing Al-Qaeda, the Taleban, Saddam Hussein and by extension Syria and Iran, blurred all lines and relegated the urgency of launching the peace process.

Both states adopted the same tactics and strategies in their onslaughts from pre-emptive attacks to exaggerated use of military power against civilians. Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib pale in comparison to what is happening to tens of thousands of Palestinian activists in Israeli jails.

The content of the Bush speech before the Israeli Knesset should not have shocked Arabs and Muslims to such an extent. It should, on the other hand, shock many Americans and a good number of Israelis who stand against their country’s policy in the occupied territories and would prefer to reach a just and lasting peace with their neighbors.

By failing to talk about Israel’s occupation of Arab land, its illegal settlement activities, its policy of collective punishment, its humiliating treatment of millions of Palestinians, its economic blockade of Gaza and its refusal to negotiate the fate of millions of refugees, Bush was not only being biased and nonchalant; he was making America a committed accomplice in all of the above.

It all seems a bit naive and simplistic really. Bush cannot wipe more than 10 million Palestinians, and their just cause, off the face of the earth by choosing not to talk about them.

In fact, Israel’s bona fide independence credentials look a bit dented after the emotional presidential address. At 60, Israel appears more like the semi-autonomous US territory of Puerto Rico than the independent Jewish homeland envisioned by the Zionists.

This brings in another intriguing thought. If Israel can count on the backing and support of 300 million Americans, maybe the Palestinians should deliver their fate to the more than 300 million Arabs and over a billion Muslims. Both Arab and Muslim countries can then form a united negotiating team that could engage the Americans, as Israel’s custodians, in peace negotiations. Sounds a bit harebrained? Maybe a little.

But the approach is not totally facetious. The US has made an important departure from the policies it had observed previously and reiterated time and again under the Bush administration in relation to the Arab-Israel conflict. Now there is a change and if Bush can stand before Arab leaders and preach about democracy and reforms, he should hear a different and harsh response one way or the other.

— Osama Al Sharif is a veteran journalist based in Jordan.
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