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What does Bush want in Middle East?

Aijaz Ahmad: President Bush wants US terms for a two-state solution and build a front against Iran

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Story Transcript

Bush in Middle East: Historic or photo op?

SHARMINI PERIES: George W. Bush made his first visit to the Middle East as president. Bush himself has called the visit to Israel and Palestine historic. Many of the people in the region are calling it a photo op. US media is saying this is about the Bush legacy. During his visit, he predicted that the Israeli-Palestinian peace accord would be completed by the end of his term in office.

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Ramallah, West Bank

January 10, 2008

GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT: Well, I believe it’s going to happen, that there will be a signed peace treaty by the time I leave office. That’s what I believe.

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But on the day President Bush arrived in Israel for this historic visit, The New York Times buried the story on page 10. To discuss the visit, we are joined by the Real News Senior Analyst, Aijaz Ahmad. Aijaz, is President Bush’s visit to the Middle East much ado about nothing? What can we seriously expect from a visit where the three leaders are not going to be in the same room together?

AIJAZ AHMAD: Well, Sharmini, I would actually agree with The New York Times. For once The Times has done the right thing. And it has done so because the US policy is headed for yet another failure with this visit. Basically, this visit is an exercise in damage control after the November conference at Annapolis and the NIE (National Intelligence Estimate), which said that Iran has no nuclear weapons whatsoever. This visit was announced soon after Annapolis. And at Annapolis the US had essentially two major concerns. One, it wanted to bring together all the Arab states, or virtually all of them, in order to build some kind of a bloc, first to support the US version of what the peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians should be as Palestinians are represented by Abbas, and secondly to build some kind of coalition against Iran. What actually happened was that the Arab states were very upset by the fact that they were expecting a serious document at Annapolis promising an Israeli withdrawal, but no such document, not even such words, were available. Secondly, the Arab states are not at all convinced that there is a very serious Iranian problem, which needs to be addressed in military terms. After they all went back—they were very polite at Annapolis, but after they went back, they started building bridges towards Iran. And in fact, number of states—Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and now even Egypt—are normalizing relations with Iran. There is no possibility of a movement on the Palestine-Israel question, because the US identifies itself so completely with the Israeli position that Arabs cannot support the American position. Essentially, Bush is going as a lame duck president trying to salvage this great initiative that he has announced, about which Arabs are extremely skeptical, and in fact the initiative is with Iran. The object now is to try and get all those Arab states back under the US umbrella and to again try and build a coalition against Iran. This is likely to be a failure. The New York Times understands that, and that is why it has buried the story on page 10 as you say.

PERIES: So given the situation, Aijaz, what can President Bush hope to achieve? What is the best-case scenario coming out of this visit?

AHMAD: Well, I think the Israeli-Palestine visit is already a catastrophe. Bush has endorsed every position that Israel has held on Palestine. The two major cities of the West Bank that he has visited, Ramallah and Bethlehem, the curfew was so extreme that you may describe it as something of a martial law for him even to visit. Nobody outside the Abbas circle among the Palestinians have welcomed this visit. So it is already a failure so far as that is concerned, and “failure” is the word, because the United States actually did not set out to differentiate its agenda from Israel anyway. So it has become an exercise in reassuring Israel that the Bush administration is entirely behind its policies. In the Middle East, the United States—in the Arab countries, the United States has a very ambitious project, in which it is trying to persuade the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council to withdraw their offer to cooperate with Iran even on security issues. And Robert Gates wants to build a missile umbrella for the defense of the GCC under US aegis against Iran, whereas the recent meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Doha set up a motion based on ten points of cooperation between Iran and the Gulf Council, the GCC. The Bush visit is meant to derail that agreement. Bush is trying to get these people to stop their financial transactions with Iran and join the United States in those sanctions. I do not believe that any such thing is going to happen. Saudi Arabia and Egypt have taken major, major steps to normalize their relations with Iran, and I think they’re going to be very polite with the United States, but they are not going to give any substantive undertakings to Bush. In other words, in short, the Bush agenda is very radical both on the economic and the military fronts in terms of, you know, defense umbrellas and so on and so forth. But I would be very surprised if he gets any major concessions out of the Arab states.

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