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Bush in Middle East: Who is isolating whom?

Aijaz Ahmad: Is Bush ignoring NIE report? Will his campaign to isolate Iran succeed?

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Story Transcript

ZAA NKWETA, PRESENTER/PRODUCER: President Bush continues his seven-state tour of the Middle East this week. Following his visit to Palestine and Israel, Bush was in the United Arab Emirates this weekend, taking the opportunity to speak out against Iran.

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January 13, 2008

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

GEORGE W. BUSH, US PRESIDENT: Iran is today the world’s leading state sponsor of terror. Iran’s actions threaten the security of nations everywhere. So the United States is strengthening our long-term security commitments with our friends in the Gulf and rallying friends around the world to confront this danger before it is too late.

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To get a sense of President Bush’s speech, we go to The Real News’ Senior News Analyst, Aijaz Ahmad.

AIJAZ AHMAD, SENIOR NEWS ANALYST: The day before he left for the Middle East, Bush made a statement, saying that the purpose of his visit [is] to impress upon other countries that the NIE’s estimate, the National Intelligence Estimate, has not changed the threat perception of Iran. Condoleezza Rice at the same time gave an interview to Jerusalem Post, saying that Iran remains the greatest danger in the world. As Bush arrived in Israel and President Shimon Perez came to greet him on the tarmac, right there on the tarmac, President Perez talked about Iran, saying that we are going to defend ourselves against attacks and so on, and turned to Bush and said, we are taking your advice on the question of the Iran threat. Later on, again, Bush gave an interview on Israeli television in which he said again that the United States is going to defend Israel against Iran and so on. So the talk against Iran is constant, that it is the main object of this visit. On the other hand, Mr. ElBaradei from the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] is arriving in Iran at the same time to indicate that the negotiations between Iran and IAEA are very much going on on schedule; high officials of Iran, Mr. Larijani, for example, one of the highest officials in Iran, has been visiting Egypt and Damascus and welcomed there; Mr. Ahmadinejad himself, the president, has gone to Saudi Arabia; the Russians are delivering not only nuclear fuel but high-tech weaponry to Iran; and so on. So Bush is trying to build up this notion of the Iranian threat, which no one takes seriously. Israel keeps talking about that, and the Americans keep talking about it, but no one else is taking it seriously. Even so, I would say that much more than Israel-Palestine issue, the real objective of this is to try and build that kind of coalition of the willing. And what worries me about this is that essentially Bush administration has rejected the National Intelligence Estimate as something that should affect the policy. My sense is that this is a president who has lost track of any agenda, and he’s trying to retrieve his entire project in creating a new Middle East by drumming up support for the most belligerent actions either against Iran or against Pakistan. There is no such support in the Arab world. There is no welcome in Pakistan itself for the kind of action they are trying to take. But I fear that since he’s not facing reelection, he might really undertake something very drastic in military terms. And if he fails to build the kind of coalition that he’s trying to build, he’s simply going to turn around and say, look, we tried to work with you all, you didn’t work with us, so we have had to take this onus upon ourselves. During the last three days, I have looked and looked in the Iranian press that is available to me. It hardly mentions the visit, and on this great confrontation, so-called, basically said this was a routine thing and Americans are faking it. The supreme leader, Khamenei, has recently made very strong speeches supporting Ahmadinejad and saying that there are those people in our country who are trying to compromise our security and so on and so forth, but I am very glad that the government has stood firm. So I read those speeches as a kind of an indirect comment on the visit, indicating to the Americans how confident Iran is and how determined it is to carry on its policies exactly [as] it has outlined for itself, and it does not feel greatly threatened by the United States, because it sees the United States isolating itself. Arab governments are going to be very sophisticated about it. They will use all kinds of platitudes of how they’re looking to the United States and so on, but I doubt very much that he will have any great success. In fact, the opposite is happening, that even old adversaries, you know, countries like Egypt, which broke relations with Iran in 1979, opened up a big dialog with Iran after Annapolis, and that dialog is going on regardless of Bush’s visit. Similarly, Saudi Arabia’s invitation to Ahmadinejad to come to Saudi Arabia, even if it is only to lead the Irani pilgrims to the Hajj, these are great symbolic actions, which I believe come out of serious consideration of their policies. And I don’t think they’re going to reverse it because Bush has shown up for some kind of photo-op opportunity. Now, I don’t think there’s going to be any great success. I think the United States is headed towards more failure. My fear is that as Bush faces more failure, his desperation might increase, and he may adopt some highly aggressive policies. And I am very disturbed by the fact that the leading contenders are not challenging him over this. He has exposed himself so much that the Democratic contenders, at least, should be taking him on.

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