From Cowboy to Caped-Crusader?

U.S. President George W. Bush (L) and Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert smile during an arrival ceremony at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv January 9, 2008.   REUTERS/Larry Downing   (ISRAEL)

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS

This week, January 8-16, marks the beginning of a tour of the Middle East by U.S. President George W. Bush. Bush will kick-off the tour by first visiting Israel and Palestine for a continuation of talks which were iniated this past November in Anapolis, Maryland. Both Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas promised to find some common ground, at the Anapolis talks, by the end of this current year. Bush also plans to make stops in other countries including Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Critics around the World have questioned the underlying motives behind the Bush visit to the Middle East. After all, his Presidency has not exactly been about diplomacy but rather to ‘shoot first’ and ask questions later. So, why is Bush trading in his cowboy hat, albeit temporarily, and donning the hat of a diplomat? There are several possible reasons for Bush’s 360-degree turnaround.

Perhaps this last ditch effort, which comes during the last year of Bush’s reign as U.S. President, is an attempt to renew the tattered image of the U.S. in the Middle East and by extension help Bush in a self-serving motive to make himself look less like a war monger and more like a public servant in the pages of history. If he could honestly succeed where other sitting-Presidents, like former U.S. President Bill Clinton, failed and bring the Israelis and Palestinians together in a viable two-state solution then perhaps the success will create a more favorable legacy for Bush than the combined body counts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Or maybe the visit is actually all about Bush bowing to pressure from his own political party, the Republicans. It’s no mystery that the race for the 2008 White House is one of the hottest U.S. Presidential races in history. Democratic Presidential hopeful Barack Obama is already a league ahead of all of his opponents including Republican front-runner Mike Huckabee. If Bush could use his Mideast tour to repair some of the damage his Presidency has done in the region, perhaps American voters will be more forgiving and have faith enough to elect another Republican President.

However, leave it to analysts situated right in the Middle East, to see a more sinister side to Bush’s ‘eleventh-hour’ visit to the region and that is to shore up support from Arab nations for a possible U.S. led attack on Iran. Why else would Bush be touring so many of Iran’s neighbors, like Egypt and Kuwait, dailies in the surrounding areas of the Gulf have rhetorically asked readers? Political commentators in both the English and Arab media have speculated for months that Kuwait specifically could be singled out by Bush to launch a pre-emptive attack on Iran. Perhaps that is why Bush is reportedly planning to release all the Kuwaiti inmates of Guantanamo Bay prior to his visit in order to ‘butter-up’ Kuwaiti officials.

Regardless of his motives, Bush’s visit in the Middle East is expected to cause a furor and result in angry protests at all of his stops. Even before Bush has set foot in the region detractors and extremists are already doing their part to see that Bush’s visit fails. For example- this past week, Al-Qaeda, who is suspected of having sleeper-cells in many regions of the Middle East, have encouraged their supporters, “…to receive him not with flowers or clapping but with bombs and booby-trapped vehicles.” The statement was just one of many in a newly released in a 50-minute long Al-Qaeda video featuring their American Spokesman, Adam Gadahn.

The Bush presidency has gone on for 7 long years without giving the people living in the Middle East a chance to speak let alone be heard. So, Bush’s first Presidential visit to the region will more than likely be viewed in the global arena as being a case of too little, too late.


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