Bush, Like Bin Laden, on the Sidelines

By measure of each man’s negligible influence over events in the Middle East — despite florid denunciations of all compromise and accomodation with those each brands as evil — President George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden appear to have more in common than either would care to admit. And not just because Bush and Bin Laden are on the same page regarding the influence of Iran.

Lebanon is but the latest example of how events passing both men by. The agreement that ends the 18-month political standoff there is a stunning victory for Hizballah, and for the politics of accomodation rather than the binary good vs. evil strategy pressed on the Lebanese government by its U.S. sponsor. Indeed, it seals the collapse of the Bush Administration’s strategy there, which became obvious two weeks ago when the U.S.-backed ruling alliance was trounced on the street. Hizballah was never trying to take control of the country, it was simply ensuring that it maintained its military capacity to fight the Israelis and maintain its role as a regional player in concert with Iran and Syria. Which is exactly what the U.S. and its allies, from Saudi Arabia to Israel (and, of course, Bin Laden), have spent the past two years trying stop.

The new deal, by giving Hizballah a power of veto in the government that certainly reflects its power on the street — and probably in the electorate, too, if Lebanon’s politics were based on a representative read of the actual current population (as opposed to the 1932 census on which it is based for political reasons), allows it to hold on to its weapons despite the requirement of UN Security Resolution 1571 that it be disarmed. It probably also allows Syria to circumvent any discomfort from the probe into the murder of Rafic Hariri.

The interesting thing, though, is that despite the warnings of Bush and Bin Laden, the Sunni-led government in Lebanon had little choice but to accept Hizballah’s terms in the peace process brokered by Qatar — it was the only way of keeping their country from imploding. Bush (and Bin Laden, actually) offered only the politics of confrontation, but that wasn’t a plausible option against a politically and militarily stronger adversary.

And Lebanon was only one example. Elsewhere, Hamas and Israel are negotiating a truce, with Egypt playing the mediating role once adopted by the U.S. in talks between Israel and its neighbors. The Israelis won’t call it a truce, or admit to talking with Hamas — which Bush, in his fantasy world, likens to talking with Hitler, despite the fact that two thirds of Israelis support such talks — but everyone knows that’s what they’re doing. Bush’s posturing is all very well, but Israel needs a truce with Hamas, so in the realm of practical politics, Bush must simply be sympathetically humored, and ignored.

The same is true for the unsolicited “advice” Bin Laden periodically offers Hamas, warning it against participating in elections, or engaging in truce talks with the Israelis, and so on. Hamas long ago made clear it has no need of the advice of a man roaming the wilds of Waziristan threatening to blow things up. Leon Trotsky could issue all the ideologically pure communiques he could think of from his Mexico City hideout in the 1930s, but those mattered not a jot to the unfolding of events, even among communist parties, in Europe. As Stalin asked of the pope in a different setting, “how many divisions does he command?” And the answer is that Bin Laden represents absolutely nothing when it comes the real politics of the Palestinians on the ground. He’s just a kind of nutty talk-radio figure, a Rush Limbaugh for the jihadi set.

Israel is also forced to ignore Bush’s adolescent militancy when it comes to Syria. Washington has, under Bush, refused to engage with Damascus, insisting that it be isolated. But despite Bush’s reservations, the Israelis have opened peace talks with Syria, using Turkey to play the mediating role traditionally assumed by the U.S. — but vacated under the Bush Administration.

Bin Laden, of course, denounces any such talks. And a clearly miffed Condi Rice tells the Israelis they’d do far better to concentrate on her “Israeli-Palestinian” track, which, as we’ve explained, is a rather dark joke, since it involves Israel making “peace” only with those who are not at war with it.

But everyone in the region knows that the Bush Administration, with its surfeit of megaphone indignation and aversion to serious diplomacy, has nothing concrete to offer them — so they’re getting on with things on their own. Robin Wright makes the same point, noting that the Lebanon deal and the Syria-Israel talks “were launched without an American role, and both counter U.S. strategy in the region.”

A “new” Middle East, indeed — one in which the U.S. role has been substantially marginalized, largely as a result of the policies it has pursued. And the election-season debate over Hamas suggests that it might be naive to expect an instant turnaround next January.

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39 Responses to Bush, Like Bin Laden, on the Sidelines

  1. FredJ says:

    The Iranian empire is expanding. IT is fueled with money from the West and weapons purchased from Russia.

  2. Shlomo says:

    Yep, Hezhbullah’s in a slow-motion coup. It’s pretty much the same thing we saw happen with Hamas in Gaza, only more spread out timewise and on a larger scale. Still, I am impressed and quite happy the Lebanese avoided civil war, and think that whatever the deep structural changes are this is the best way to go about it.

    I think the tipping point was after Bush went to the Arabian Peninsula to beg for oil, and the Crown Prince blew him off. When that did not yield any substantial response at all, all the major players felt free to make these public announcements of peace deals Bush had tried to prevent.

    After seven years of insanity and hell, the tides may be starting to turn. Peace in Lebanon, democracy in Pakistan, and rapproachment with Syria and perhaps Hamas. But let’s not get too optimistic–Somalia is as bad as ever because Ethiopia will not withdraw, Iraq remains a cauldron, and Hamas seems to have unstoppable political momentum in the West Bank.

    Interesting times.

  3. Gene says:

    It would be nice to think that things are easing up and getting better. But, to steal a line from the inimitable Yogi, it ain’t over til it’s over. There are still seven months left in 2008, and the powers-that-be in Washington aren’t going to give up so easily. Iran is still in their sights. And Israel is 100% behind them.

    Until this administration is out of power, all bets are off.

  4. Matthew says:

    The Syria-Israel track is evidence that the adults are in charge in Jerusalem and Damascus. Think about how good a true peace deal would be for both countries: Israel secures its border from its only real remaining adversary. (Let’s not kid ourselves about Hez’b). Syria gets the Golan and the chance to rejoin the Arab world. And Israel gets a Syria that no longer amplifies Iranina influence. Don’t forget that Syria can switch sides tomorrow and support Amal.

    You know this is such a good idea…..it couldn’t have been you thought up in Washington!

  5. Bernard Chazelle says:

    Shlomo: Hamas was a slo-mo coup? I seem to recall it won the election and US/Israel prodded Fatah into staging a coup, where it got beat-up badly.

    Funny how 1. Hamas and Hezbollah are the only two grassroots movements in the region; and 2. They’re winning.

    Could there be any relation between 1 and 2?

  6. The lame, ruptured duck Deputy Dubya Bush reminds me of that schizoid scene in the second Lord-of-the-Rings movie where the Gollum personality says to the Smeagol personality: “You don’t HAVE any friends. Nobody likes YOU.” Sort of the fitting epitaph for American foreign policy after seven disastrous years of the Dick Cheney Shogunate Regency. Too bad for America and the Middle East that the ditzy, dumb dauphin never grew up.

  7. T Wirchley says:

    There really is a whole lot of evidence that the Bush Administration knew that the attacks of 9/11 were going to occur before they did. Read a book called THE TERROR TIMELINE by Paul Thompson(Harper-Collins), then read the book called THE COMMISSION by The New York Times reporter Philip Shenon. The Bushies had warnings from France, Israel, Jordan, Egypt and many other sourcer including Robert Baer of Syriana fame. Shenon reports how the acting head of the FBI jumped in Ashcroft’s face to express his outrage that Ashcroft would not pay any attention to the warnings of an attack that were coming in. Bush was on the sidelines just the way he and Rove wanted it.

  8. KB says:

    Here is the sad and funny part of this whole thing.
    As of yesterday, I still hear people that are anti Obama and pro “the body bag” McCain, claiming that Obama will turn the country over to “Hamas, Al Qaeda, Hezbollah…….”
    According to these intelligent people, King George has made us Americans more secure and he has defeated the terrorists. Therefore the body bag is going to continue the strong policies of King George.
    Please someone come and beat my skull to pulp. I just can not believe that after 7 years of disaster we still have idiots out there like that.
    Ever anyone listen to the right radio talks including FOX?
    You will fall off you seat.
    However, you can not blame these idiots, after all they are the ones (the majority of our population in America) who watch Tom & Gerry on Saturday morning with their Sponge Bob boxers on. They will also vote for the body bag.
    Are we Americans going to learn ever?
    I have mucho doubts.
    Keeryalayson (Lord have mercy)

  9. morris says:

    I am just wondering if Bin Laden is alive. In reality it is irrelevant whether he is or not (strategically speaking).
    As for the videos of him: Years ago there was ‘Morph’ ‘3D Max’ ‘Adobe After Effects’ all consumer software for altering moving images. Let alone what might be available to the professionals today.
    There was one video of BinLaden that had suspicious freeze frames just when he was saying something dubious.
    The NeoCons went to Afghanistan to get Bin Laden, if they caught or killed him, would they tell us?
    Anyway Bin Laden and Bush personally knew each other, Bin Ladens brother died in a plane crash while visiting Bush in Texas, (something like that) the net is full of it.
    Just when we got used to ‘you can’t believe everything you read’ Now it applies to what we can see and hear.
    Bin Laden shortly after 9/11 was interviewed by a Karachi newspaper, and he made a convincing denial of having had any involvement in 9/11.

  10. Shlomo says:

    Morris: sources, please?

  11. Matthew says:

    BC: I think “democratic forces” and “neo-liberal ecnomics” have been conflated. You can’t believe in Freedom unless you accept corporate freedom. Just ask Tom Friedman.

  12. morris says:

    @ shlomo some links/sources:
    Bin Laden freeze frames Sep 10 07 and reported all over the alternative net: http://www.damianpenny.com/archived/010031.html
    Another critique of the bin laden videos being faked: http://www.whatreallyhappened.com/osamatape2.html
    Bin Laden(half)brother: http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=250876
    I recall reading of business connections between them, but is not in this page. Joint affairs in Carlyle group and BCCI get a lot of coverage. And Bin Laden financing the Taliban which was in cahoots with the US.
    The Karachi interview with Bin Laden denying involvement in 9/11: http://www.robert-fisk.com/usama_interview_ummat.htm

  13. magistra says:

    How successful are negotiations likely to be without ‘outside’ involvement/pressure/encouragement? The Northern Ireland peace process, for example, needed the Irish and the British and the Americans involved to succeed, even though the main dispute was between two factions within Northern Ireland. What is the track record for other agreements to end conflicts elsewhere?

  14. KinkyKathy says:

    Bush and Bin Laden make all of us forget about our private failures.

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