Give Them A "Golden Sombrero": Bush Administration Was Wrong On Iraq, Late On Iran And Syria, And Watched Egypt's Democracy Disappear!
"There will be no legacy for Mr. Bush."
Conservative icon William F. Buckley summed up the Bush foreign policy pretty well. We are engaging in a "Murphy's Law" policy -- whatever can go wrong is going wrong.
In baseball, getting a "golden sombrero" is striking out four times. Amazingly, when it comes to Bush's execution of a Middle East foreign policy, the hat fits.
The Bush Administration admitted it was wrong about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction, and that it underestimated the Iraq insurgency. A wide array of people, including former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former head of the Coaliation Provisional Authority Paul Bremer, and former Army chief of staff, Gen. Eric Shineski, were ignored when suggesting that the U.S.-led coaltion in Iraq would need significantly more troops.
With no positive ending to the war in sight, Republicans have been reduced to name-calling -- as Newsweek's Jonathan Alter wrote: "Anyone who dares criticize President Bush's Iraq policy is a "cut-and-run" Democrat. The White House's object here is not to engage in a real debate about an exit strategy from Iraq ... (but to) intimidate them into changing the subject to other, less-potent issues for fear of looking like unpatriotic pansies."
That's strike one.
As Buckley said, the administration has been so "engulfed by Iraq" that it failed to have proper perspective on "other parts of the Middle East with respect to Iran in particular."
How's this for leadership? Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said Friday: "I could have gotten on a plane and rushed over and started shuttling, and it wouldn't have been clear what I was shuttling to do. … I have no interest in diplomacy for the sake of returning Lebanon and Israel to the status quo ante. I think that would be a mistake."
But that's a false choice. The choice is not the status quo or doing nothing. The choice is U.S. leadership in the region to create something better than the status quo, or accepting the status quo, or doing nothing.
Rice said earlier this month, "Hezbollah and Hamas and these other extremist forces ... have been developing and threatening the Middle East and arresting positive developments for decades."
And yet, the administration's policy was to talk tough, and not much more. We applauded democratic elections in Lebanon from afar, failing to take an aggressive stand here as we had with Iraq.
In other words, our administration chose the potential threat of Iraq over the real threat of Iran and Syria, the state sponsors of Hamas and Hezbollah. Then, it compounded the mistake by not paying attention to Iran and Syria via meaningful diplomacy with regional allies.
When the situation blew up between Israel, Hamas and Hezbollah, Rice stayed in Washington until this week, breaking from past precedent, which saw President Nixon's Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, used “shuttle diplomacy” following the 1973 Yom Kippur War and President Clinton's Secretary of State, Warren Christopher shuttling between Damascus and Jerusalem to negotiate a “truce between Israel and Hezbollah” in 1996.
That's strike two and three.
And now the final strike against Bush's Middle East policy -- allowing Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to stomp on Egypt's fledgling democratic movement.
As the Washington Post editorial page wrote last week, Mubarak, with "tacit consent of the Bush Administration ... is continuing his campaign against the democratic movement that sprouted in his country last year. His latest target is the fledgling independent press. ... Last week Mr. Mubarak's ruling party reaffirmed a law that makes it a crime, punishable by imprisonment, to "affront the president of the republic" -- or insult parliament, public agencies, the armed forces, the judiciary or "the general public interest."
No free speech, no freedom of the press. Throw in no political opponents -- democracy activist Ayman Nour, a member of parliament, was thrown in jail following his attempt to challenge Mubarak.
And no reaction from the U.S., either. As Nir Boms, vice president of the Center for Freedom in the Middle East, wrote in the Washington Times, "President Bush rejected a bill that sought to tie some of the American assistance to Egypt with democratic reforms. ... (W)hen Mr. Nour was arrested, the U.S. ambassador in Cairo, Francis J. Ricciardone, declined to comment, giving a subtle green light for (Mubarak) to accelerate his crackdown."
It's a far cry from pre-Iraq War days, when the adminstration was more active in the Middle East, offering its "Roadmap" for long-term peace between Israel and the Palestinians. In 2002, the administration " threatened to withhold $130 million in aid" to Egypt if Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a leading liberal dissident, was not released from prison. Ibrahim was quickly released.
The one bright spot is that no senior members of the administration have been quoted recently saying "No one could have anticipated President Mubarak cracking down on democracy," or "No one could have expected that Hezbollah would attack Israel."
Maybe the administration has learned how transparent those spin lines are. Or maybe they're so "engulfed" in the Iraq War that they haven't gotten around to saying anything just yet.