Where’s George?

Bush Administration, Middle East

The President seems to be having an ego implosion. Dan Froomkin writes,

The Middle East is exploding and what is President Bush doing about it? Not much.

Here’s the transcript of this morning’s joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in which Bush sounded more like a bystander on the world stage than the leader of its only superpower.

Other than definitively supporting Israel’s right to defend itself, Bush was more timid and wishful than assertive. He spoke in unusually deferential terms about collaborating with other world leaders and pretty much ruled out military action against Iran. His comments about the current situation in Israel suggested a highly unrealistic notion of how well things were going there up until now, and a naiveté about the effect Israel’s actions may have on Lebanon’s embryonic democratic government.

More than anything else, Froomkin writes, Bush was enthusiastic about tonight’s dinner menu — roast pig.

Get this:

One reporter asked Bush about Russian President Vladimir Putin, who yesterday mocked Vice President Cheney by likening Cheney’s recent criticisms of Russia to his accidental shooting of a hunting buddy in February. Bush’s reaction? He just giggled. “It was pretty clever. Actually, quite humorous — not to dis my friend, the Vice President.”

Jeez, what a weenie.

If you haven’t read this Michael Hirsch commentary (Blurb: “Burned by his bitter Iraq experience, Bush is eschewing leadership and hiding behind the skirts of multilateralism.”) — well, get busy —

… for six years now, George W. Bush’s foreign policy has resembled a pendulum swinging out of control, lurching wildly from hubris to “help us.” Despite the “stay the course” rhetoric, there’s been little that is steady or dependable about it, and not surprisingly it has inspired little respect or trust around the world. In Bush’s first term, the pendulum swung too far toward in-your-face unilateralism. Now, in his second term it has swung dramatically back toward the most squeamish sort of multilateralism—the kind of thinking that says, “Without partners, I don’t dare make a move.” …

… Why is our famously straight-talking president now beating around the bush? One problem, of course, is that the never-abating violence in Iraq is drawing all the strength and energy out of U.S. efforts elsewhere. But the main reason, in my view, is ideological paralysis. The president is still taking the same posture of his first term, that of a strong and dominant leader who does not deign to deal with “illegitimate” regimes such as Iran and North Korea, when he no longer has the power to do so. Unlike dealing with Iraq and Al Qaeda, when he had his options wide open, he really doesn’t want to attack either Iran or North Korea—both options would be very, very messy. And at the same time he no longer has the moral authority of the shock-and-awe era when America looked almighty. Iraq has exposed America’s vulnerabilities, and there’s no point in denying it.

Janine Zacharia reports for Bloomberg:

President George W. Bush and U.S. diplomats, distracted by threats from North Korea to Iraq, are playing a minor role as an escalating confrontation between Israelis and Arabs risks wider Middle East violence.

David Welch, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, and Elliott Abrams, deputy assistant to the president, only arrived in the region yesterday, 17 days after the abduction of an Israeli soldier in the Gaza Strip set off the crisis. Bush hasn’t spoken to any Middle Eastern leaders in the past couple of weeks, according to National Security Council spokesman Frederick Jones.

Let me repeat that — Bush hasn’t spoken to any Middle Eastern leaders in the past couple of weeks.

What has the U.S. been doing? Well, in the UN Security Council we blocked an Arab-backed resolution condemning Israel. At the Washington Note, Steve Clemons reports,

Although I do not have independent confirmation, I heard the rumor from a well-placed source that Secretary of State Rice attempted to increase pressure on Israel to stand down and to demonstrate “restraint”. The rumor is that she was told flatly by the Prime Minister’s office to “back off”.

Rice is not one to be told to back off without the other party paying a price. Israel’s outrageous, over-the-top military escalations were exactly what the most militarist fanatics of Hamas wanted and exactly what Hezbollah wanted to prompt. Those in the middle of the extremists on all sides are getting crushed.

Rupert Cornwell writes that U.S. policy in the Middle East is in “disarray.” Yet the White House appears unconcerned.

The White House insists that its policies are on track. If there are “a lot of issues in motion,” according to Stephen Hadley, Mr. Bush’s National Security Adviser, “in some sense, it was destined to be. We have a president that wants to take on the big issues and see if he could solve them on his watch.”

More probably an administration whose energies have been consumed by the war in Iraq, on which Mr. Bush has staked his presidency, may be simply overwhelmed. The separate crises amount to “a perfect storm,” Madeleine Albright, who was Secretary of State under Bill Clinton, told The Washington Post last week. “We have not been paying attention to a lot of these issues.”

In the latest flare-up between Israel and its neighbors, Washington has been almost silent. Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State, who is struggling to orchestrate the response to Iran’s defiance, merely blamed Hizbollah for upsetting “regional stability,” and urged Syria to rein in its radical protégés.

But Washington’s rebukes are far less pointed than a year ago, in the aftermath of the St. Valentine’s Day assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri – when the talk here was of “regime change” in Damascus to follow that in Baghdad.

The change reflects a growing, if tacit, acceptance that the unilateralist “Bush doctrine,” involving pre-emptive action if necessary to remove a threat, is beyond the power of even the US to implement on its own. Hence the President’s more restrained tone of late, encapsulated by Time magazine’s latest cover, proclaiming an end to “Cowboy Diplomacy.” The problems also reflect a failure to think its policies through. The irony is that Hizbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine achieved their roles in government thanks to democratic elections – exactly what Washington has been advocating for the entire Middle East.

Here and there on the Blogosphere there is speculation that the U.S. is somehow orchestrating this crisis with Israel as a prelude to invading Iran. While I’m not going to dismiss this out of hand, I think it’s more likely that the Middle East, including Israel, has finally figured out what a weenie Bush really is. And since we’ve squandered so much of our military strength in Iraq, everyone knows the U.S. doesn’t have the muscle to intervene.

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13 Comments

  1. c u n d gulag  •  Jul 13, 2006 @10:20 pm

    On CNN’s “Blitz S*it’s,” there was a Lebanese diplomat who kept asking the US and the President to do what previous Administrations did – start talks. He made Shrub look really bad…
    Was anyone watching?
    This administraition is clueless about anything but tax cuts for the rich and starting wars. Neo-clown idea’s, and Grover’s dream’s, a government doesn’t make.
    Watch Shrub say’s the word “dilomacy,” like it’s four-letter word.
    The worst President, Administration, Congress and Supreme Court (outside of the Hamden decision) in American history…
    If the voting machines are rigged again in November, God help us all!!! The “Government” can’t… and won’t…
    Annie, get your gun!

  2. pgl  •  Jul 13, 2006 @10:38 pm

    Look – how would anyone expect George and Condi to clean up this mess. They are the doofus’s who decided support the Likudniks zest for power was more important than continuing Clinton’s progress. In fact, Condi was advising Israel to ignore PRESIDENT Clinton back in 2000 when all of this stuff mattered. Condi and George screwed the chances for Israel and Palestine to have a real peace for partisan purposes JUST as they screwed our efforts against Al Qaeda on 3/19/2003 (the day President Doofus decided to invade Iraq). This Administration does not give a damn about peace – if there is some election to win by making people afraid.

  3. justme  •  Jul 13, 2006 @11:56 pm

    I LOVED your last paragraph…

    I hope like hell your right about the last sentence.I am not comforted by the fact rummy is a total friggin nutjob.If the people in power were clear thinkers, reality based thinkers.. or hell at this point I would settle for just thinkers, I would be a lot less worried.

    While I suspect something is rotten in this story I am far from sure enough to speculate on where the rot lies.I wouldn’t put it past anyone because it just sure seems to work out good for too many agendas…but it could also fall into the “shit happens” side, one thing can lead to another pretty damn fast in that neck of the woods….the facts just are not in to conclude this was somehow orchrestrated at this time…I do not dismiss anything as out of hand either…smart move in the world we live in!

    I do feel like bush has used up his ability to rally this nation to another war..but I don’t believe he is finished.What better way to do it then claiming our dear friend Israel was attacked and that we must help them defend themselves against the evil arabs?It is a win win for both sides….I don’t believe for a second that Israel doesn’t have as much hate for Iran as Irans nutty spokesman has for Israel…or Syria for that matter.They don’t seem to like any of their neighbors very much so any they can get us to knock off for them is a win for them(I wish we had a peon country to fight our wars for us) and bush gets to continue his mid east tour , plus if it starts soon enough it can help bush thru the last election that matters to him(06) …Now I think a majority of Americans would like to see his political hands tied but take the country to a war as serious as the conflict Israel may start and tied hands at a time of war will frighten people.
    I also think bush needs other nations in his pocket to bring home to us as a stamp of approval..sort of a ” now look see, don’t take my word for it… country A,B,C say so too!”, because country A,B,C have more credibility with the American people then bush does, rather than some grand shift in policy.
    A few other things strike me; It seems bush is doing this the same way as Iraq in that he is reason shopping. First it was nukes..floated like a lead filled trial balloon…next it will be “they threatened their neighbors?” .. (roll in the incubator stories).Which makes me think he is nuts enough to do it.Normal people see a limit to the number of troops we have…king george sees them like plastic army men he can just replace.

    I guess we will see in a few weeks when bushco rolls out the “new product line” (sick sob’s)…I for one hope it doesn’t include more death then we are already dealing with.But doesn’t condi’s silence speak volumes?

  4. emel  •  Jul 14, 2006 @12:20 am

    yes it is democracy that brought us Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Palestine and Ahmadinejad in Iran. Gotta love democracy…

    Are they finally realizing Bashir Assad may be better than no Assad and resulting chaos in Syria too? Bush sat back and let sharon destroy the West Bank and Fatah in 2001. Hence with the rise of Hamas, they have so many people they don’t talk to- Hamas Hezbollah Iran Assad, Lebanon tettering and Iraq exploding= hard to talk and negotiate when you refuse to recognize anyone you need to deal with.

  5. John Palmer  •  Jul 14, 2006 @2:22 am

    I think folks might – might – be too worried about an invasion of Iran. here, I point out the question that’s been on my mind recently about this less aggressive Bush that we’ve been seeing. See, I’ve heard stories that we’ve been, essentially, burning through our stockpiles of supplies to the point that we’re pretty much out. We haven’t been restocking because, 1) we’re going through stuff really fast, and 2) by letting inventory fall, we’re disguising the cost of the war, and putting off the full reckoning.

    I have no idea if I’m right. I hope I’m dead wrong. But then, would it surprise anyone if Bush was shortsighted?

  6. justme  •  Jul 14, 2006 @6:15 am

    I would be a lot less worried if my family members on the ground in Iraq were not being told to”gear up for the next WAR” and if rummy didn’t make comments like”we learned a lesson for the next wars”….If the war is winding down why lower the recruiting standards and raise the age? They will now take people with criminal records, drug problems, people who score lower on testing(brain dead folks) and people in their 40’s….If rummy will invade a country with too few troops you know too many troops sitting around during peace time won’t wash……I want you to be right and me to be wrong….I love to be wrong at times like this but boy it sure gets a lot harder to be relaxed or trusting when you actually have someone at stake on the ground… even harder when one of the family has already come home in a box…the stakes couldn’t be higher…bush has given us nothing but reason to worry..If he doesn’t mess this up it will be the first thing.

  7. janinsanfran  •  Jul 14, 2006 @8:07 am

    I sure hope you are right that what we are seeing is imperial overstretch rather than a brutal NeoCon plan to drag an unwilling United States into war against Iran and Syria. Wouldn’t it be novel to have a government that we could trust to be acting with a plan — a plan that is in the interest of most of us?

    Having just come back from Lebanon, having driven those highways and flown from the Beirut airport, I cannot shrug off the current eruption as just one more episode of Middle East lunacy. The Israelis are wantonly attacking innocent Lebanese, practicing collective punishment of a whole country.

  8. Lynne  •  Jul 14, 2006 @9:23 am

    Just throwing this in: Recall a while ago the discussion about some conservative Christians believing (as always) that the end times are upon us? I have been wondering how much the Leader of the Free World subscribes to these notions. If he does, then what happens in the near east may be just considered inevitable and the plan of the Almighty.

  9. temperance  •  Jul 14, 2006 @9:41 am

    For me, one of the scariest lines in Hirsh’s new article was: “The situation cries out for decisive U.S. intervention, at the very least a high-profile American envoy.” It’s scary because our “high profile American envoy” seems to be John Bolton. While Bush has gone off in a corner and curled up into a ball, we have a walking temper tantrum in charge of negotiating a truly horrific situation in the Middle East. Scary.

  10. Steve M.  •  Jul 14, 2006 @10:33 am

    You don’t think he’s just distracted because he’s head over heels in love with Angela Merkel?

  11. Steve M.  •  Jul 14, 2006 @12:21 pm

    Sorry, that was silly, but look at this picture. Jesus.

  12. temperance  •  Jul 14, 2006 @12:46 pm

    Lynne: If you can stomach it, I suggest that you take a look at the worldnetdaily site (worldnetdaily [dot] com). There’s a frightening synergy between the articles in the center, which seem to be cheering on the escalating Middle East violence, and some of the apocalyptic-themed nonfiction books they’re advertising on the sides of the page. I’m really worried that people who have a “worldnet” worldview are the ones making the key U.S. policy decisions (or indecisions, as the case may be) in this crisis.

    Anyone else find it both appalling and predictable that, in a 5 minute web search, I found clothing companies selling t-shirts that said (variously) “Nuke Iran,” “U.S. Out of Iraq – And Into Iran,” & “If Iran Wants Nukes So Bad, Heck Give Them to ‘Em” [accompanied by a cartoon of a mushroom cloud]. Maybe you’ve all discussed these shirts before — I wasn’t aware of the prevalence of this particular clothing line until today. Some people, it seems, can’t get ENOUGH military conflict and bloodshed. This attitude freaks me out, to say the least.

  13. Sky-Ho  •  Jul 14, 2006 @4:26 pm

    GWBush AWOL, again?

    Why would you expect him to do anything different than he ever has done? Reading “My Pet Goat” while Americans were dying?

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