On Jan. 8, George W. Bush begins his parting tour of the Middle East as US president. This region was the platform for his vision at the outset of his presidency, and the one which gave him the greatest disappointments and setbacks of his eight-year term of office.
His eight-day tour will take him to Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait and the Palestinian Authority. It might include a surprise side-trip to Baghdad.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Middle East sources, which have followed President Bush’s military and diplomatic moves step by step from the start, note that he will not have an easy ride.
Regional rulers will receive him politely and respectfully, but they will not disguise the five central problems at issue with his administration:
1. None are quite sure how far the US president is master of the executive in Washington and in control of American policy-making and implementation. There were doubters before, but the National Intelligence Estimate released on Dec. 3, 2007, which determined that Iran had suspended its nuclear armament program, convinced most that there were other hands at the White House helm.
Whether or not this is correct, the consensus of Arab rulers is that the NIE was not initiated by President Bush but released against his will.
2. The US president’s credibility is another issue. It will be recalled that he handed Middle East government heads a pledge that he would not leave the White House without solving the Iranian nuclear problem. Though pretty cynical, those rulers never imagined that the Bush solution would come in the form of denial, which would lead to a decision to refrain from fighting Iran’s uranium enrichment and accept a nuclear-armed Iran.
In an effort to repair some of the damage to his credibility, Bush said Thursday, Jan. 3: “I will clarify that the NIE means that Iran is still a danger.” Part of the reason for his Middle East trip, he said is “absolutely” about efforts to contain Iran’s influence in the region.
Moderate Arab rulers court Iran as cock of the Middle East roost
But he was too late; the Middle East had moved on:
— Arab rulers were lining up to improve their relations with Tehran. They were coming to terms with the Islamic Republic as the power that called the shots in the region. A striking example is Egypt, which is preparing to resume diplomatic relations after 29 years.
— They are casting about for non-American nuclear protectors and partners for military pacts outside the region.
— They are sounding out weapons suppliers independent of the US, such as Russia.
— Some of the oil emirates are set to follow Iran in divorcing their prices from the dollar peg and moving over to a currency basket.
3. Those same rulers have concluded that the US-led campaign in Afghan, its invasion of Iraq and the way US troops managed these two conflicts did not serve the war on Islamic fundamentalists and terrorists, and failed to achieve its goals.
Indeed, the Arab governments which cooperated in US efforts, feel that the peril posed by the extremists to their regimes is consequently greater than before. The final straw, for them, was Benazir Bhutto’s assassination and the turmoil in Pakistan.
Even the success of the Bush surge strategy in substantially reducing the violence in Iraq has not changed the minds of the rulers the president will be visiting.
They do not attribute the improvement in Iraq to an American military victory, but to the willingness of 70,000 to 100,000 Iraqi Sunni Arabs to stand up and fight al Qaeda.
They are convinced that the financial aid and weapons the Saudis and the Gulf rulers contributed to the Sunni effort did as much to reverse the tide of war as US cash payments and arms.
Iraq‘s Kurds team up with Sunni Arabs to contest Shiite rule
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources report that the purportedly moderate Arab rulers have parted ways with the Bush administration in their future plans.
They have invested high hopes in a hush-hush military cooperation pact signed December 25, 2007, by Iraq’s Kurdish president Jalal Talabani and its Sunni vice president Tariq Hashimi.
Iraq’s Kurds and Sunni Arabs are finally, after generations of enmity, burying the hatchet for the sake of an alliance to contest Shiite Muslim control of Iraq.
Kurds and Sunnis have agreed to build a common army able to marshal 150,000 trained Kurdish fighters and 100,000 Sunnis – together a quarter of a million fighting men under arms. They would face an Iraq Shiite army of half a million men.
So behind the widely-publicized American military feats in Iraq, the first steps have been taken on the ground for Iraq’s partition into two large rival blocs which are bracing for a military showdown.
This reality will confront the visiting US president.
4. Very little survives of President Bush’s vision of a democratic Middle East and Muslim world.
5. In Afghanistan, Pakistan, Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas-ruled Gaza, the Americans have failed to enforce their will. Lebanon is in limbo without a president. The pro-Western Siniora government is losing ground, while Syria deepens its grip on the country. The Palestinian Authority, which was crafted to embody the Bush vision of independent statehood before the end of 2008, is a fiction.