Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Arab World Waits Out Bush -- In Iraq...and Israel

Amir Taheri has an article on the Wall Street Journal website on how the Arab world sees President Bush. According to Taheri, Bush is viewed by them as an aberration among recent presidents in that he has NOT been forced to run away:
To hear Mr. Abbasi [a member of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's administration] tell it the entire recent history of the U.S. could be narrated with the help of the image of "the last helicopter." It was that image in Saigon that concluded the Vietnam War under Gerald Ford. Jimmy Carter had five helicopters fleeing from the Iranian desert, leaving behind the charred corpses of eight American soldiers. Under Ronald Reagan the helicopters carried the corpses of 241 Marines murdered in their sleep in a Hezbollah suicide attack. Under the first President Bush, the helicopter flew from Safwan, in southern Iraq, with Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf aboard, leaving behind Saddam Hussein's generals, who could not believe why they had been allowed live to fight their domestic foes, and America, another day. Bill Clinton's helicopter was a Black Hawk, downed in Mogadishu and delivering 16 American soldiers into the hands of a murderous crowd.
So since Bush apparently is not going to oblige the Islamists and turn tail and run, their strategy is to wait him out, in the hopes that the next president--whether he turns out to be a democrat or republican--will end up withdrawing.

Waiting may be the strategy of the Islamists in Iran, Syria, Pakistan, Turkey, and Iraq, but what about Israel--are the Arabs in general, and Palestinians in particular, planning on waiting out Bush and the UN on Israel as well in the hopes that the next president will put even more pressure on Israel and might himself be persuaded by international pressure to be 'more evenhanded'?

If they do think the remainder of Bush's term will be uneventful, Wednesday probably came as a disappointment as the US came out with a directive to both diplomats and contractors not to have any contact with Hamas-appointed ministers, whether or not they are from Hamas--effective once Abbas swears in the new Hamas cabinet. However, the directive does allow contact with Abbas, his personal office and any non-Hamas members of the Palestinian parliament.

Meanwhile, Canada became the first country--besides Israel--to cut off funds to the PA because of the refusal by Hamas to stop the terrorism, recognize Israel, and keep previous agreements. Both the US and Canada would still provide humanitarian aid.

For now it is not clear whether the US will be able with some allies to isolate Hamas, or whether Hamas will be able to gather enough political support and financial backing to isolate the US itself.

In any case, for the Arabs hope springs eternal, and there is always the possibility that the next US president will be more amenable to international pressure. At the very least, at this point it is difficult to imagine that the next US president would apply less pressure on Israel and give less backing to the planned Disengagement in the West Bank. Even if the next president is not weaker, if the US itself becomes more isolated, that would serve the same purpose.

Taheri himself takes a positive view and believes that the Arab world is once again misjudging American resolve:
While Mr. Bush's approval ratings, now in free fall, and the increasingly bitter American debate on Iraq may lend some credence to the "helicopter" theory, I found no evidence that anyone in the American leadership elite supported a cut-and-run strategy.

The reason was that almost all realized that the 9/11 attacks have changed the way most Americans see the world and their own place in it.
Support for Taheri may come from reports this month that in the US, the negative view of Islam in on the rise. The question though remains whether this will result in Americans being more sympathetic to Israel and what she is going through with her own threats of terrorism, or whether perhaps this growing negativity might make Americans wary of the whole situation and want to distance themselves from the Mideast as much as possible.

As if she didn't have enough issues to see through to the end, there may be a lot riding on whether the US really has the stomach for the coming battle to isolate Hamas. If the US cannot, it will give Hamas, and the Palestinian Arabs, confidence that US power and influence is on the wane--along with Israel.

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