Will the real Bush finally stand up?

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US President George W. Bush has six weeks left in power. If he acts fast, that may be enough time to secure his place in history – at least in terms of the Middle East.

Bush's initial reactions to the Sept. 11 attacks were a rare display of political and intellectual courage. Gazing at the rubble of the World Trade Center, Bush recognized that the primary failure of US policy towards the Arab and Islamic world until that day was found in the predisposition of his predecessors to slavishly maintain a Faustian bargain with tyrannical Arab regimes in the interest of maintaining "stability." That bargain committed the US to providing military assistance and political backing to authoritarian regimes throughout the Arab and Islamic world in exchange for cheap oil for the West.

What Sept. 11 showed Bush was that the "stability" the US had purchased was an illusion. As the US propped up dictators, their subjects fumed under the chains of state terror and economic privation. For millions of frustrated young men, the only outlet for resistance open to them is the mosque. There they are indoctrinated in the ways of jihad and mobilized to fight for Islamic global domination.

In the months that followed the attacks, Bush radically changed the course of US Middle East policy by pledging American support for the democratization of the Arab and Islamic world. Bush announced that from then on, the US would no longer blindly follow its duplicitous client states but would support voices of democracy and freedom in the Middle East no matter where they came from.

Bush's message did nothing to endear him to the likes of the Saudis and the Egyptians. The Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference attacked Bush's freedom agenda and indignantly argued that it would be impossible for them to reform their ways for as long as the US maintained its support for Israel – the sole democracy in the region.

THEN THERE was Europe. Until Bush came around, Europeans had delighted in showing off their false multicultural and humanitarian credentials built on buying off terrorists, attacking Israel and giving the Palestinians billions of euros in foreign aid. Bush's freedom agenda exposed their deceit and their cowardice. They were appalled.

Implicit in Bush's view was the understanding that the US's most stable allies – and indeed only stable allies – are fellow democracies. And this understanding necessarily led Bush to the conclusion that Israel is the US's most dependable and valuable ally in the Middle East.

Bush's views were nothing short of sacrilege not only for the Arabs and the Europeans, but for Washington's foreign policy establishment, headquartered at the State Department and the CIA. For the men and women of these bureaucracies, Bush's recognition that the Arab regimes they championed were the primary source of regional instability and anti-Americanism was a repudiation of everything they worked for. More disgraceful, in their view, was his open embrace of Israel – the mortal foe of all their Arab friends – as the US's most trustworthy and strategically vital ally in the region.

All these forces joined together almost immediately to scuttle Bush's freedom agenda for the Arab world. In country after country, Bush's message of democracy was watered down to nothingness.

In post-Saddam Iraq, rather than embrace democratic champions like Ahmed Chalabi, the foreign policy bureaucracy in Washington foisted strongman and former Ba'athist Ayad Allawi on the newly liberated country. The State Department and the CIA allowed Iran and Syria to freely subvert Bush's freedom agenda by buying politicians, building militias and fomenting the insurgency.

Iraq was Bush's central foreign policy initiative. And it is for his work in Iraq that he will chiefly be remembered. Today the battle for Iraq is all but won. But it was only won after Bush realized in 2006 that if he continued following the advice of those who rejected his goal of a free Middle East, the US would be forced from Iraq in defeat.

IN LEBANON in March 2005, when more than a million pro-democracy Lebanese citizens staged the Cedar Revolution and ousted Syrian forces from their country, Bush's battle for freedom was finally joined by the Arabs themselves. To secure the gains of the Cedar Revolution, Bush needed to work with Israel to protect the pro-Western Siniora government.

As Israel's failure to defeat Hizbullah in 2006, and as the US's championing of the UN ceasefire resolution which facilitated Hizbullah's takeover of Lebanon showed, neither Israel nor the US was willing to protect Lebanon's democrats. Today, with the forces of democracy defeated after Hizbullah's violent takeover of the government in May, rather than decry this state of affairs and work to undo it, Bush has chosen to deny it. And not only does he deny it, he exacerbates it. Bush welcomed the "stability" that Hizbullah's takeover has facilitated. And today he is arming the Hizbullah-dominated Lebanese army with tanks and other heavy arms. That is, in Lebanon, Bush has adopted the very same Faustian bargain he rejected in the aftermath of Sept. 11.

Bush's confused and self-defeating policies towards Lebanon are a direct consequence of his policies towards Israel and the Palestinians. In 2002, Bush recognized that the root of the Palestinian conflict with Israel is not Israel's continued control over Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem but the absence of Palestinian leadership willing to live at peace with Israel. Moreover, he recognized that the US's primary role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was not to mediate a dispute the Palestinians are unwilling to reconcile, but to stand by Israel as America's main ally in the region.

Bush's views earned him the enmity of the Arabs, the Europeans, the Washington elites and the Israeli Left. And together they undermined his policies and isolated him until less that a year later, he abandoned his positions. In mid-2003 he set aside his demand for a reordering of Palestinian society and his decision to side with Israel. In their place, Bush joined the Arabs, the Europeans, the UN and the Israeli Left in making the establishment of a Palestinian state the centerpiece of his Middle East agenda. As with Lebanon, here too Bush's acceptance of the establishment's position came at the cost of eschewing Israel as a US ally.

BUSH'S UNWILLINGNESS to carry through on his freedom agenda in the face of unrelenting opposition from Europe, the Arabs and his foreign policy establishment is what has prevented him throughout his presidency from contending with the greatest source of volatility and danger in the region – Iran. Largely as a consequence of the ambiguity and weakness of his policies on Iran, it is likely that one of the most prominent legacies of Bush's Middle East policies will be a nuclear-armed Iran.

With just six weeks remaining to his tenure in office, much of what Bush will leave behind him has already been determined. But there are two things he can still do that will impact greatly both the world he leaves behind and how he is judged by history: He can take action against Iran's nuclear program, and he can embrace Israel as an ally by pardoning four men who have been persecuted for assuming the alliance exists.

On the surface, these two agenda items couldn't be more disparate. By neutralizing Iran's nuclear installations Bush would save the lives of millions of people. By pardoning Jonathan Pollard, Larry Franklin, Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, he would save the lives of four people.

But the fact of the matter is that the two issues present Bush with the same challenge. They both require him to find the courage to embrace the vision that he tried but failed to realize in the early years of his presidency.

By attacking Iran's nuclear installations – or by permitting Israel to fly
over Iraq to attack Iran's nuclear installations – Bush will do two things. He will bolster the US-Israel alliance. And he will demonstrate that the stability engendered by the status quo is antithetical to US interests.

Until now, Bush has been prevented from taking action in Iran by those who insist that the status quo in Iran and throughout the region is preferable to every other alternative. This was the view that propelled Washington's foreign policy establishment to oppose Israel's independence 60 years ago and has caused them to continue to oppose accepting Israel as an ally to this day.

To maintain the predominance of this view, over the years its proponents have persecuted individuals who reject it. In 1985, when Jonathan Pollard was arrested for transferring classified information to Israel, he was not treated like a man who had transferred secrets to a US ally. He was treated like a man who had transferred secrets to al-Qaida. His sentence of life in prison was meant to serve as a deterrent for anyone who dared question the view that Israel is nothing more than an albatross placed around the US's neck by a powerful American Jewish lobby and by dimwitted politicians.

Whereas Pollard's fate was sealed long before Bush entered the White House, Franklin, Rosen and Weissman's nightmare began under his watch.

In 2006, former Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin was sentenced to 12 years in prison for seeking the assistance of two AIPAC lobbyists – Rosen and Weissman – in bringing the threat posed by Iran's nuclear weapons program to Bush's attention. By speaking with Rosen and Weissman, Franklin was behaving as countless government employees behave. He was prosecuted not for sharing information with the men, but for mistakenly assuming that his view of Israel as a US ally was shared by the powers-that-be in Washington.

Weissman and Rosen are in the midst of a long, costly, drawn-out trial and stand charged with mishandling classified information under a statute that has not been enforced since World War I. For more than four years they have been treated as criminals for doing nothing more than their job as lobbyists – for a lobby that was founded on the understanding that the US and Israel are strategic allies.

The Bush who understood that a stable tyranny is a threat to a vibrant democracy knew that Iran had to be defeated and its regime overthrown. The Bush who celebrated the shared values on which both the US and Israel are founded knew that those who seek Israel's destruction will also never peacefully coexist with the US. If that Bush is still around, the time has come for him to act on those understandings. Before he leaves office he should embrace Israel as an ally and prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Not only will he secure the lives of millions of people. He will also secure his place in history.

Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.

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12 Comments

  • Anne Lieberman 11/25/2008 at 0:43

    You’re right, of course. As a friend of mine often says, “If only George W. Bush were still alive.” Sigh.
    However, I wouldn’t get my hopes up; whatever made him stop listening to Dick Cheney and start listening to Condi Rice seems to still be in effect. He seems to be pretty much crushed, and who wouldn’t be after the unprecedented torrent of degradation and demonization the Left brought to bear on him? Credit where credit is due: I am deeply grateful that his government has kept us safe from attack for all these years. Gd help us -both America and Israel- survive the coming thugocracy.

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  • Ron Grandinetti 11/25/2008 at 3:23

    Caroline I am with you on this 100%. I have, and to continue to pray that our president will, before leaving office do something that would in the long run prevent a nuclear disaster for the free world.
    Weapons of mass destruction should never be allowed in the hands of terrorist governments such as Iran. There will be no retaliation for this type of strike. Iran would be foolish to engage the U.S. in any way shape or form. They would suffer defeat.
    The U.S.A. has as always as in the past came to the defense of those seeking democracy and freedom from tyrants. Then we assist these countries to recover and restore economic stability. How bad are we?
    I will via this comment email our great president for consideration and suggest others to do so.
    God Bless America and Israel for freedom sake.

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  • Marc Handelsman, USA 11/25/2008 at 4:22

    Some late-term Presidents issue controversial pardons like when President Clinton pardoned Marc Rich. President Bush could give us a Chanukah surprise by pardoning Jonathan Pollard and the other men. Unfortunately, the US is experiencing severe problems that have preoccupied President Bush, and will do the same for President-elect Obama. When historians write about this volatile era, we will know more about President Bush, and his affect on the world. Finally, those who are blessed to be Americans need to respect the “Office of the Presidency” no matter who occupies it.

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  • ha ha 11/25/2008 at 4:57

    whiners…

    Reply
  • redherkey 11/25/2008 at 8:42

    Looking at how many Jews overwhelmingly supported Obama, I’m comfortable accepting the consequence that is on the horizon for the Jewish state. I struggled to understand why such people who knew first hand what tyranny was about would once again embrace their enemies and empower them, but after this election, I’m resigned to stop impeding their failure and permit them to discover the consequence of their selection.

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  • katie regan 11/25/2008 at 17:17

    good timely insight,….but it’s President Bush….
    it’s time journalists brought back proper respect when referring to the important leaders of our time.
    thank you.

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  • Cantbelievemyeyesandears 11/26/2008 at 1:59

    To Redherkey-
    The Jews of the world have probably never been so disunited since the time of the Romans. The disconnect between the Jews who voted for McCain and those who went for Obama is bigger than the red state/blue state cultural divide.

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  • marcel cousineau 11/26/2008 at 2:54

    Six weeks to do what he refused to do in eight years ?
    He’s had almost 8 years to pardon Jonathan Pollard.
    FACE IT, If he were truly a friend of Israel, Pollard would have been freed long ago.
    Even after all the Palestinian terrorism and non compliance ,they were always rewarded by Israel’s strange hope for peace.
    The weapons he supplied are now in Hamas hands aimed at Israel.
    Either you have great hope in a fool or in a crafty devil.
    His supplying of weapons to Lebanon are proof that his agenda is against Israel period.
    Why are his religiously loyal groupies in such deep denial ?
    Your hope in a wolf in sheeps skin is not admirable.
    You forgot to mention that it was President Bush’s personal interference and pressure on Israel which led to Hamastan,Gaza.
    Whenever Bush or Rice meet with Israeli leaders ,Israel suffers.
    Thats a fact which the Kool-Aid drinkers will never face because lies are their refuge.
    Iraq is a success only if you leave out Iran’s Shiite asendance and spreading influence without the restraint it once had under Saddam.
    Under President Bush Iran has EASILY built a formidable army in Lebanon and Gaza.
    Bush has worn out the military and bankrupt the treasury and so Iran is off the table.
    Israel’s misplaced faith in America and in a tall Texas liar who found his calling as a sinister politician has brought the nation to it’s greatest unfolding disaster and not peace.
    You swallowed his Road Map trap hook, line and sinker and still you refuse to remove yourselves from his hooks.
    What will Olmert bring back to Israel from his visit with George ?
    More removal of Jews from their homes and land is my guess.
    Carla Fay Tucker got no mercy from the wolf in sheeps skin.

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  • Alan Greenfield 11/26/2008 at 8:02

    If Bush could only be bold and reject the assumed deal he made with Iran: that Iran will agree to stop interfering in Iraq thus giving Bush a much sought-after victory, & in turn Bush won’t attack Iran & pressures Israel not to do so either. This assumed deal no doubt would be championed by Bush-influentials Gates, Rice, & like minded in the pro-appeasement camp. Now that the “Obama victory brings oil prices down” randsom power of OPEC is being exposed, Bush should also realize he has also been “had” in a rotton deal – and “fix” it fast (read fix IRAN). If Pres Bush could only be so bold…

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  • Chuck Michaels 11/26/2008 at 15:09

    Unfortunately, you are right on the money. Somewhere along the political process, President Bush was overcome with an unprecedented media attack demeaning his efforts to support Israel and insert another democratic nation into the Middle East mix.
    If the President does indeed come around change his course back to what it had been, the world will be eternally grateful ( though not for 15-20 years hence ).May God bless the nation of Israel and those supporting it.
    And yes, it IS President Bush, or at least Mr. Bush.

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  • Jeff Quiram 11/27/2008 at 4:54

    I agree with your latest piece in every area but one. As an American citizen, I can not condone spying and the transfer of intelligence. It is especially worrisome to me that a country that receives incredible support from the US should feel a right to gather classified information from my country through nefarious means. Jonathan Pollard should remain in prison until he has fulfilled his sentence. The Israeli people should not view our refusal to pardon criminals as taking an unfriendly stance to Israel. At the same time, Israel should not expect to have its spying sins forgiven just because it got caught. That is asking too much, even of a staunch friend.

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  • Josh 01/12/2009 at 6:17

    Jeff, asking the U.S. to pardon Jonathan Pollard is not asking too much. Other staunch American allies, such as the Philippines, have engaged spies to act on American soil, and when caught, those spies have received sentences much less harsh than Pollard’s. Furthermore, the information that Pollard gave to the Israelis was information that the American government was supposed to transfer willingly to Israel under 1981 defense cooperation agreements, but the Americans were not transferring it. That information concerned Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor in Osirak, Iraq, which Israel later destroyed, thus saving the world.

    Reply

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