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 naivetÃ© 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.
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 multilateralismâ€”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 Koreaâ€”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.
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.
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 protÃ©gÃ©s.
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.