Posted by Alex on Thursday, January 17th, 2008
Posted by Alex
First, here is a collection of opinions pieces following President Bush' trip to the Middle East.
Mamoun Fandi, opinion writer in Saudi-owned newspaper Asharq Alawsat, wrote:
" … the solution is possible and easy between Syria and Israel. How nice it would be if one or more Arab leaders, with whom US President George Bush will meet during his forthcoming tour in the region, make quick arrangements now to invite Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to meet with them in the presence of President Bush in Egypt or Abu Dhabi, for example. " …
"Those who are familiar with the secrets of Bush's visit to the region say that the main purpose of his tour is to visit the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia because of its importance in the Arab and Islamic Worlds and because of its significance in the world at a time when the oil price has touched $100 per barrel. This is in addition to the special relationshipå between President Bush and King Abdullah. President Bush has constantly praised King Abdullah as a man who honors his word and as a highly credible leader. If this is so, why the Arabs cannot exploit this relationship, which is based on mutual confidence between King Abdullah and President Bush, to promote their interests? What is needed is Arab coordination with Saudi Arabia and Syria to take advantage of this meeting to serve as the basis for solving the pending Arab issues. " …
"On the Syrian track, there will be no embarrassment at this historical juncture to arrange for a visit by President Al-Assad to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, or the UAE to coordinate positions about the Golan, Lebanon, and Iraq. The meeting of the Saudi foreign minister with his Syrian counterpart in Cairo recently could be understood as part of this coordination. Perhaps there was a deal for accepting a Syrian strategic role in Lebanon in return for the Golan and in return for Syria's disengagement from Iran that could lead to stability in Iraq and Lebanon."
Few days later, Zvi Bar'el, Haaretz' senior Arab affairs expert, wrote a piece titled "The Arabs should stop whining" in which Zvi wondered why the Arabs do no take Fandi's serious proposal:
"Today, when the plane carrying U.S. President George W. Bush departs from glittering Dubai and lands in Riyadh, the substantive part of his visit to the Middle East will commence. If there is one place where discussion will get to the point without too much vision, dreams and fanfare – it's Riyadh. If there is a capital where things that are agreed to are also carried out – it's Riyadh.
Riyadh is a familial place where the Bush family, both father and son, has personal interests, and where they speak in terms that are clear to everyone: like money, property, investments and also security. If a solution can be found to the Palestinian problem, the Iraqi conundrum, the crisis in Lebanon and the relations with Iran – it will begin and end in this place. This is the country that drew pan-Arab hegemony to it; it is the one that dictates the basic rules, the red lines and the policies of compromise of the states in the Middle East. From a country that trudged along behind the Arab consensus, which is determined for the most part in Cairo and sometimes in Damascus, Saudi Arabia has been transformed into the initiator of policy.
It is toward Saudi Arabia that the Egyptian intellectual and researcher, Mamoun Fandy, directed his incisive article: "The Cards are in the Hands of the Arabs." The article appeared in the daily Asharq Al-Awsat, which is controlled by a Saudi prince who rules a large media empire in the Middle East. If the ties between Saudi Arabia and the United States are so close and warm, why are the Arabs unable to take advantage of this to further their interests, Fandy asks."
The White House added a Middle East Blog to its official website. The blog included highlights of the president's daily activities during his Mideast trip. This blog had a map of the Middle East as part of its graphic banner. It looked like this:
If anyone was confused regarding the opinions of Fandy and Bar'el, the White House map of the Middle East was clear. Forget the classic Middle East that we all knew in the past, according to this administration, the Middle East has been reduced to Israel and Saudi Arabia… the rest are irrelevant.
That is why during this trip Syria was boycotted and publicly criticized (this time for its interference in Lebanon). They forgot to inform the President that the avant-garde approach to expressing disappointment with the Syrians in 2008 is to focus on Syria's failure to interfere in Lebanon.
Qatar was also boycotted – unofficially perhaps, but since the much smaller Bahrain was visited by the president, but not Qatar … Qatar WAS boycotted – Qatar is not interfering in Lebanon or being "confrontational" like Syria, but the Qataris deserved to be boycotted because they did not join the Saudis, Jordanians and other "Arab moderates" in making life difficult for Bashar Assad the past five years.
The largest Arab country, Egypt, barely made it! … President Bush spent three hours in Egypt, not in Cairo but in the remote resort of Sharm elSheikh… away from the mostly unfriendly eighty million Egyptians.
When President Carter spent three days in Cairo (March 7th-10th 1979) he stood for hours in Sadat's convertible Cadillac smiling and waving to an endless lineup of Egyptians who wanted to see him and express their gratitude to him.
My family lived in Egypt at the time and at age thirteen I was one of those standing in the street hoping to get a glimpse of the visiting American president … Thanks to my "I LOVE New York" 70's style T-shirt, I did get a special wave then an OK sign from the president.
This time, President Bush did not want to get anywhere close to real Arab crowds (with the exception of the ones hand picked by his hosts). He did not want to know how much most of them dislike him. There was a demonstration in Cairo organized by a number of different Egyptian opposition groups in which a typical poster said "Kick out Bush the murderer"
Dubai officials felt that given President Bush's "popularity", nothing short of emptying the streets of their busy city can be sufficient to secure President Bush's passage. For the first time in decades, Dubai looked like a ghost town for the whole day. Estimated cost of shutting down Dubai for the president's visit: 120m USD of direct losses up to 1 Bn USD if you include indirect losses
Yet, President Bush' "popularity" did manage to impress the editor of Asharq al-Awsat, Mr. Tariq Alhomayed, who was somehow very confident in his ability to score a point against the Syrians as follows:
"American President George Bush danced the al Ardha* dance in Bahrain, enjoyed a comfortable stay in Israel, greeted the President of the Palestinian Authority (PA) Mahmoud Abbas with kisses and was warmly welcomed in Kuwait. He also gave a critical speech about Iran in Abu Dhabi in the presence of hundreds of citizens and officials, and the US president is due to receive further hospitality during his stay as a guest in Riyadh's al Janadriya Farm after which he will be hosted by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak." …. "As for the warm reception that Bush received, the president is obliged to send a letter to both Syria and Iran saying, "Dear enemies, thanks to you; the threat that you pose over the region has led to warm hospitality!"
In addition, today Mr. Alhomayed who seems to be encouraged by President Bush's unprecedented support for Saudi Arabia, delivered new warnings to Syria:
"There must be an announcement to declare moving the Arab Summit from Damascus. This needs to be followed by a strict political position against Syria that should be escalated even on an economic level – should it refuse to desist in interfering in the affairs of independent Arab states. Additionally, its [Syria's] close ties with Ahmadinejad must be reviewed so that there may be a price paid for it."
One wonders if Mr. Alhomayed had the chance to read the results of a recent poll which found only 12 percent of Saudis view Bush positively _ lower than Iran's president or even al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden _ and more think warmly toward Iran than America.
President Bush and Vice President Cheney should be alarmed by those numbers. Selling the Saudis twenty billion dollars of American arms after fabricating a well-timed confrontation with the Iranians in the Persian Gulf, convincing Saudi emirs to spend billions to help bailout American banks, dancing al Ardha with members of the Saudi royal family, and impressing the cigar-smoking young editor of the Saudi owned Asharq alAwsat is not how you deal with the chaos you created in the Middle East, and it is not how you can win the hearts and minds of the Arab people in the twenty first century.
I suggest the following schedule for the next American presidential visit to the Middle East: Two days in Egypt, two days in Israel/Palestine, two days in Saudi Arabia, and Two days in Syria.