Annapolis & "The Surge": Spinning a Legacy
Annapolis & "The Surge": Spinning a Legacy
By Bernard Weiner
Co-Editor, The Crisis Papers
We were sitting at an outdoor cafe in Munich (on a rare sunny day in early October) when our Israeli friend and her husband asked: "What breakthroughs to peace do you think will emerge from the November Middle East 'summit' that Bush and Rice are hyping?"
I'm usually looking for any signs of hope in that bloody, tense region, so I surprised myself by blurting out in despair: "What will be accomplished? Nothing! It's all for show. The decisions have already been made, and, since Bush won't use his leverage in a forceful way, and therefore Israel feels free to operate as it wishes, there will be no significant chance for change in the situation there until we have a new U.S. president."
As much as I enjoy having been proven correct in my analysis, watching the grand photo-op get-together in Annapolis last week made me feel ineffably sad, wishing I had been wrong.
But Bush's show-event is in line with how he governs: not aligned with reality. His actions mostly involve denial and fantasy, both of which require stage-settings and lots of spin. He did it with the deceptive use of the term "compassionate conservative" in his initial campaign for president. He did it in 2003 on an aircraft carrier under a banner "Mission Accomplished," declaring that the U.S. had "prevailed" in Iraq. He did it with the plastic turkey he carried around for the cameras at a Thanksgiving dinner for the troops in Iraq. He did it standing in front of a stage-set in New Orleans, when he promised post-Katrina help that never came, or came too-little-too-late to do most locals much good. Etc., etc.
All of these CheneyBush theatrics are in the service of an overweening hunger for power, the many ways monies can be siphoned to corporate and political supporters, the desire for conquest and control.
SHAKING THE "LOSER" LABEL
Now Bush is in his final 13 months, and he is desperate to seem to have accomplished something positive in his tenure in the White House. For good reason: everything he's touched over the past seven years has turned to crap, and he's got the lowest performance rating of a modern American president (24%), worse even than Richard Nixon at his lowest. The lovable Cheney is at 11%.
Bush's desire for image-rehabilitation is more than just that of a president aiming for a positive political legacy. For Bush, it's also highly personal. He's been adjudged a "loser" all his life in everything from his business ventures (where his daddy's rich friends bailed him out time and time again), in his one direct connection with a war (his daddy got him into the Texas Air National Guard, where he did little, if anything, and didn't even have to take the on-base physical, the results of which could have gotten him kicked out, if you get my drift), and in his political misadventures (Iraq being the most notable).
That "loser" label bugs the hell out of him. His parents never let Dim Son forget what a lazy fuck-up he was, and part of his arrogant stubbornness stems from his desire to prove them wrong. That's part of the reason George W. finds it virtually impossible to admit error. To do so would be to question the core of his being, and explains the too-cocky persona as a strong, determined leader who, by following his "gut" (and the messages he says he gets from God), will push through the ugly circumstances he's helped create and emerge a victorious, larger-than-life hero in the end.
We'll look at Israel/Palestine below, but this I'm-not-a-loser attitude is clearly relevant with regard to the war of choice CheneyBush launched in Iraq in 2003, and the disastrous occupation that continues to this day.
YEARS OF BAD DECISIONS IN IRAQ
It shouldn't surprise anyone that for four years, even while the evidence of a catastrophically failed war/occupation in Iraq was clear to everyone else, Bush made no changes in policy. As a result, tens of thousands of dead and maimed American troops were sent back home, and the destruction of Iraqi society proceeded apace: many hundreds of thousands of dead and wounded, an escalating ethnic/religious war, millions of technocrats and middle-class professionals fleeing the country, the widespread use and abuse of torture. All of this has destroyed America's and the Iraq government's moral authority and reputation, and provided compelling arguments for jihadi recruiters.
Nearly five years in, Bush instituted a "surge" strategy by sending 30,000 more U.S. troops into Baghdad. Of course, the overall policy in Iraq remains a failure: the violence rate in Iraq remains as high as the previous year, and the U.S.-approved government in Baghdad is too weak, sectarian and corrupt to create a political solution that would significantly affect the low-level civil war in progress. And in War#2, the resurgent Taliban controls about half of Afghanistan, is gaining strength in and around Kabul as well, and continues to have many supporters in next-door Pakistan.
So what are CheneyBush contemplating, even with a stretched-way-too-thin military? Why, of course, a third war in yet another country. Attacking Iran will be another act of desperation for Bush. You can almost hear his mind racing: "The two earlier wars were practice runs for Iran. This one will do it. We'll shock-and-awe Iran's rulers, the army and student reformers will rise up and topple the hated mullahs who control Iran, Ahmadinejad will fall, America will approve of a new ruler it can 'work with,' democracy and free-markets will take hold throughout the Arab world, and my place in history will be assured." That's our delusional Maximum Leader, even in the face of the government's own National Intelligence Estimate that reveals CheneyBush way overstated Iran's nuclear-weapons program and capabilities.
The idea behind the "surge" in Iraq was never to win anything that reasonably could be thought of as a "victory"; we're way beyond that possibility these days. Instead, the goals involved buying some time for the central Iraqi government to get its act together and solidify its hold on the country and for CheneyBush to run out the clock through the November 2008 election, so that the "loss" of Iraq will happen on another president's watch.
Additionally, in the meantime everything is being done to ensure that a new U.S. president will have his or her hands tied by (possibly illegal) arrangements being made with the Maliki government, all without approval by the Congress. Oil contracts are being arranged with foreign (mostly American) energy firms. The U.S. is getting the Iraq government's OK to make the hardened U.S. military bases permanent, and America's new embassy, the largest in the world, will be finished sometime next year in Baghdad.
Indeed, from the CheneyBush perspective, an Iraq-in-perpetual-chaos serves the neo-con cause. It means that the U.S. will remain, perhaps for decades, the big kahuna in that country and region, with time and freedom to help develop and control the huge untapped reserves of oil there, and to use Iraq as the central command center for U.S. military/political machinations throughout the Greater Middle East.
THE PALESTINIAN QUESTION
Which brings us to the Palestine/Israel conundrum. For nearly seven years, Bush's minders have kept him from getting anywhere close to this third-rail of Middle Eastern politics because, as many U.S. presidents have discovered, that multi-level conflict seems intractable with no easy solutions.
Besides, CheneyBush in 2001 abandoned the Palestinians to the tender mercies of various hardline Israeli governments, so there was no way America could function as an honest broker between the two sides.
But to make it seem as if he really cares about the conflict, Bush, following Rice's lead, worked hard to get virtually all the relevant players in the region to travel to Annapolis to try to jump-start the Israel/Palestine peace process. It was a mere one-day gathering that few took seriously as anything other than America showboating its supposed concern for citizens in the Middle East.
The Arab states attended both because of the need to placate the megalomaniac in the White House and because they're all worried about the rising power of a militant, non-Arab, Shi'ite Iran in the Greater Middle East, with or without nuclear weapons. "The Arabs have come here not because they love the Jews or even the Palestinians," an adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team was quoted as saying. "They came because they need a strategic alliance with the United States against Iran." ( )
The Israelis and Palestinians were in Annapolis because both governments need a political victory to shore up their own shaky hold on power inside their respective countries. Ohmert blew it big in Lebanon last summer and needs to build some positive momentum while he plans his government's future defense/attack strategies. Abbas is going head-to-head with Hamas and needs to win over former Hamas-supporters by moving toward peace or, at least, seeming to be getting closer to the still-popular two-states goal.
A HAPPY PHOTO-OP EVENT
So the Arabs and Israelis came to Annapolis and made the Americans happy, signed a vague statement of goals utterly lacking in specifics and firm deadlines, and returned home the following day. BFD.
Bush may well have thought: "If meaningful peace talks actually come out of Annapolis during the next year or two, great, I'll look good. But if nothing happens except some occasional meetings between the two parties, they'll still be talking to each other when November 2008 rolls around, which we can spin as 'progress toward peace' and thus help reduce the damage to Republicans in the election. Either way, plus helping build anti-Iran sentiment in the region, Annapolis is a win-win for us."
It's possible that something might come out of getting the Israel/Palestine peace process "back on track" -- the two sides have pledged to re-start those regular meetings. But, devoid of genuine American commitment to aggressively push the parties (especially Israel) along, I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for any kind of major movement to peace.
The only way to possibly speed the process along would be for the Congress to hasten their departure through impeachment. 'Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished -- and worked for -- but I'm not holding my breath for that one either.
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations, has taught at universities in California and Washington, worked as a writer/editor with the San Francisco Chronicle for two decades, and currently serves as co-editor of The Crisis Papers (www.crisispapers.org). To comment: firstname.lastname@example.org.