x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

The Middle East pays the price for the failures of George Bush

The United States President, George W Bush, will leave office early next year without having achieved any of his foreign policy objectives in the Middle East.

The United States President, George W Bush, will leave office early next year without having achieved any of his foreign policy objectives in the Middle East. Afghanistan is still a haven for al Qa'eda terrorists who seem to have been able to rejuvenate themselves. Iraq is far from stable and its security is contingent on the presence of US troops. Even the Arab-Israeli peace process, which Bush has pledged will bring a settlement to the conflict on the basis of a two state solution before the end of his term in office, is effectively dead.

The Middle East is no less dangerous now than it was when Bush assumed office in 2000. Seven years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, al Qa'eda is able to produce a television "account" that basically says it will survive Bush in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and elsewhere in the region and the world.

Iraqis have yet to conquer the terrorists or even to have the ability to unilaterally address critical issues for the future stability and continuity of their state. Palestinians are divided and the Israeli government is on the verge of collapse with its prime minister threatened with a criminal trial on charges of corruption.

Meanwhile, countries that Bush has labelled as "rogue states" are breaking the international isolation that the US has worked so hard to bring about. Iran is moving ahead with its nuclear plans and is becoming more defiant as it counts the days until what it expects will be Bush's undignified exit from the world's political stage. Syria is riding the French ticket into international acceptance as it engages Israel in indirect peace talks that the US did not favour.

The US's regional allies, meanwhile, are watching the influence of radicalism grow as they pay the price of failure that has been their harvest from almost a decade of association with the Bush administration. Now they, like the enemies of the US in the region, can only wait for a new US president and prepare for a new era of American engagement. But the US's allies will not be able to do much to resolve the lingering regional conflicts as they wait out the end of the Bush years. Its enemies, however, are working hard to score more points and gain more ground that will ready them for dealing with the next man in the White House.

Iran and Syria are each working to take as much advantage as possible from the semi-paralysis of the outgoing administration. Iran is asserting its regional super power status, bullying smaller states and penetrating others though its manipulation of non-state followers.

Syria is using the card of indirect negotiations with Israel to lure relative political novices like the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, seeking their support as it tries to rebuild its regional and international presence. At the same time, it is working on deals or creating conditions that can help it restore its influence in Lebanon and thwart the potential threat of being indicted in the international tribunal that was set up to try suspects in the killing of the former Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafiq Hariri.

The US administration is trying to give the impression that it is still effectively engaged in the region and is making headway. It is citing improved security conditions in parts of Iraq as a sign of progress and is working on a long-term agreement with the Iraqis to present it to the electorate as progress.

It is not budging in Afghanistan and even attacking al Qa'eda suspects in Pakistan in what appears to be a desperate effort to tell the American people that things are not as bad as the increasing terrorist operations in that country might indicate.

And Condoleezza Rice is not giving up on the peace process. She still insists that a peace deal between the Palestinians and the Israelis is possible before the end of the year. The fact that nothing on the ground remotely justifies such optimism does not seem to matter. But despite Ms Rice's record number of visits to the area, there will be no peace this year. The Israel government is too weak to negotiate a final settlement and Ehud Olmert, the prime minister, could have a shameful end to his career. The hardliner Benjamin Netanyahu is eyeing the premiership. He could get it. If he does, he will find himself in confrontation with Hamas in Gaza. Certainly no recipe for peace.

The new US President will inherit a host of domestic challenges as the US economy faces an even deeper recession. But his biggest challenge will be abroad, specifically in the Middle East, where no mission that Bush started has been accomplished. Whoever he is, he will have Bush's mess to clean up. That will not be an easy job.

Ayman Safadi is a former editor of Alghad in Jordan and a commentator on Middle Eastern affairs