Bush Re-elected, Iraq and Israel

George W. Bush just couldn’t seem to get a break overseas. Never have so many foreign voices been raised so systematically against an American president, from the insurgents in Iraq, down to the left-wing British newspaper, The Guardian, which mounted its own guerrilla campaign to persuade voters in the key state of Ohio to support his Democratic opponent, Senator John Kerry.
But 58 million Americans nonetheless cast their ballots for Bush and widened the Republican majority in the Senate and House of Representatives.
Bush, described by prime minister Ariel Sharon as the best friend Israel ever had in the White House, had his share of Israeli opponents too. Israeli newspapers and pundits reveled in running opinion polls that always seemed to tout Kerry as victor. Israel’s left-wing peaceniks, thrown into opposition for being blindsided by the Palestinian war that began more than four years ago, embraced Kerry with almost the same starry-eyed affection they once showered on Yasser Arafat.
By contrast, America’s largely conservative voters lined up solidly behind Bush’s global war on Muslim fundamentalist terror and the war in Iraq.
The world will see a different George W. Bush in his second term. It will be his chance to finish the missions he began. The second time round, he must decide whether to complete the eradication of international terror – and not just al Qaeda which he swore to fight to the finish in the 9/11 aftershock to America – or leave the end-game to the next White House occupant in 2008.
He must determine where to go with the doctrine he initiated for bringing democracy to the Middle East, the ideological spark for the March 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. Will he bring democracy and unity to Iraq in his second term or order US troops home?
Judging from his victory speech in Washington on Wednesday, November 3, the newly reelected US president intends doing both. “We will help the democracies of Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. “So that they have the strength to defend their freedom and our servicemen can come home with the honor they have earned.”
Bush did not refer to the pressing issue of nuclear proliferation, but the two remaining arms of his “axis of evil” – Iran and North Korea and their nuclear programs – will have to be dealt with without delay.
And what about Bashar Assad’s Syria, with which America has a large bone to pick over its support for Saddam Hussein before his fall – including help to make his WMD disappear – and later? Damascus’s scarcely concealed backing for the Baath guerrillas, Arab combatants and al Qaeda terrorists has been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American troops and could have eroded the US president’s chances of re-election.
The Syrian ruler more or less got away with it in the first Bush term. What will happen now? Will Bush hit Syria and the Hizballah too at the same time?
The top item on the president’s agenda Thursday morning will be to don his commander-in-chief’s hat and order US marines to go ahead with their pivotal assault on the Sunni insurgent hotbed town of Fallujah. This offensive was to have been launched 10 to 14 days before Election Day. Rumors in Baghdad claimed the decision was taken out of the generals’ hands by Bush’s top adviser Karl Rove who kept on pushing the date back.
debkafile‘s military sources report from the field that the attack is all set to go. US forces are ready, agreements struck with local militia leaders and the way is clear for the Marines to advance on the city unopposed through safe entry points. With the election behind him, Bush must set an early date for the crucial offensive. US forces have borrowed for their Fallujah campaign tactics used in Israeli military counter-terror operations in the Palestinian terrorist strongholds in the West Bank cities of Nablus and Ramallah and the Gaza Strip’s Jebalya and Khan Younes.
Bush’s Israeli critics were quick to trot out the conventional wisdom that a second-term US president will follow precedent in getting tough with the Sharon government and crack the whip for a quick deal with the Palestinians under the revived roadmap. They may be right. It is true that the Bush administration never bought into the Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon’s perception of his disengagement plan as a one-time pullout for the sake or preserving the large settlement blocs on the West Bank. In fact, the White House always regarded the projected Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank as a first step in a more general withdrawal.
A second-term US president, combined with the removal of Yasser Arafat as dominant Palestinian leader by ill health, presents Israel with the unique opportunity of a fresh start on a solution for the dragging conflict. The slate can be cleaned – both of the unwieldy disengagement plan which sorely divides Israel and is anathema to the Palestinians – and the road map which never progressed beyond its first clause which stipulates that terrorism must be abandoned and its organizations dismantled before advancing towards negotiations and concessions.
Thus far, Sharon has clung so tightly to his disengagement plan that he lined up with the camp opposed to Bush in order to drive it through parliament.
This camp, led by Shimon Peres’ left-of-center opposition Labor Party, hoped for the Democratic candidate, Senator John Kerry, to gain the White House and did not bother to hide where its sympathies lay. Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and his senior advisers also sought a Kerry victory. In a gesture of support, he briefed Kerry’s aides on his telephone conversation with Arafat at the French hospital to which he has been committed.
None of this escaped Bush. It is now up to Sharon to take advantage of the moment and come up with a fresh peace initiative to put before the newly-energized White House. If he sticks to his disengagement guns, the new Bush chariot will drive on leaving him behind, mired in domestic political crisis and without a cure for the oncoming waves of Palestinian terror.

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