Middle East will regret backing away from Bush policies

Michael Rubin:

The Middle East cheered the Republican defeat in the recent American congressional elections. The official Syrian daily Al-Baath labeled the elections a "painful blow," while the Saudi daily Al-Watan called for a "wise" policy from Washington "to bridge the gulf in confidence between the United States and the regional peoples and governments." The Iranian press gloated, while the Turkish Islamist daily Yeni Aafak argued that the election rebuke was "punishment for Bush's neocon policies." Such reactions do not surprise. President George W. Bush's policies have not been easy for many in the Middle East to digest.

Different segments of Arab societies dislike Bush for different reasons. Many Arabs outside government believe Bush tilts too much toward Israel. Lebanese cite with particular disdain Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's characterization of this summer's violence as "birth pangs of a new Middle East." Others see the US veto last November 11 of a United Nations Security Council Resolution condemning Israel for its military operations in the Gaza Strip as abdication of Washington's role as an honest broker. They accept Palestinian UN observer Riyad Mansour's characterization of the veto as evidence that Washington backs Israel as it "commits crimes and acts of outright aggression with impunity."


Bush is not anti-Arab, though. He went farther than any predecessor to support Palestinian statehood when, on June 24, 2002, he declared: "It is untenable for Palestinians to live in squalor and occupation ... My vision is two states, living side by side in peace and security." Certain Palestinian groups, often with foreign support, squandered their opportunity by re-embracing violence. Bush's belief in liberty extended beyond the Palestinians, though. While his father's advisers sacrificed Lebanese freedom for the stability of the Syrian military presence until 2005, Bush sought actual Lebanese independence.

Autocrats across the region distrust Bush for entirely different reasons. To leaders in Cairo, Damascus, Tehran and Riyadh, the Palestinian cause is little more than a useful rhetorical tool to distract their own citizens from failures closer to home. These leaders do not blame Bush for his policies toward the Arab-Israeli conflict, but rather dislike him for his rhetoric of democratization and reform.

The people of the Middle East will suffer the most under the rise of realism if it becomes US policy again. Israel bashing still works in many parts of the Middle East but some are starting to see through the use of bigotry to mask the tyranny they live under.


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