George W. Bush: "America Reshaped Our Approach to the Middle East"

Article excerpt

Published in the Spring 2009 Middle East Quarterly, pp. 75-80.

On December 5, 2008, President George W. Bush delivered his valedictory Middle East policy speech (excerpted below) before the Brookings Institution 's Saban Forum in Washington, D. C" ? a tour d 'horizon of developments in the region, ranging from the fight against terrorism in the aftermath of 9/11 and the decision both to invade and democratize Iraq, to rapprochement with Libya, the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon and, finally, the Annapolis peace process.

Bush 's omissions, however, are also illustrative. He speaks of extremism but, more than seven years after the 9/1 1 attacks, fails to mention Islamist ideology as a motivating factor. And while he had declared a global war on terrorism, he draws equivalence between Palestinians and Israelis killed during the Palestinian terrorist campaign of 2001 and appears also to draw equivalence between the refusal of late Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat to make peace and the reluctance by Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon to offer territorial concessions in the face of terror. He defends the logic of preemption, which led to the invasion of Iraq, but curiously does not link Libyan leader Mu 'ammar al-Qadhafi 's decision to surrender his nuclear program to the demonstration of U.S. power.

While Bush defends his administration 's support of dissidents, he ignores the backsliding that occurred in his second term in Egypt and Lebanon, which arguably left democrats and liberals in a worse position than before. And, when discussing the Annapolis peace process, he never reconciles this with his first-term refusal to deal with terrorist leaders.2 Nor does he address his administration 's reversal on Iran, offering incentives and diplomatic concessions despite continuing Iranian defiance ofU.N. Security Council resolutions.

The Middle East constituted the chief U. S. foreign policy challenge of the Bush years, and there is little doubt that 9/11 represented a paradigm shift in U.S. policy. But whether historians will accept Bush 's claims to success, outlined at the Saban Center, remain to be seen. - The Editors.

A Central Role in U.S. Policy

From our earliest days as a nation, the Middle East has played a central role in American foreign policy. One of America's first military engagements as an independent nation was with the Barbary pirates. One of our first consulates was in Tangiers. Some of the most fateful choices made by American Presidents have involved the Middle East - including President Truman's decision to recognize Israel 60 years ago this past May.

In the decades that followed that brave choice, American policy in the Middle East was shaped by the realities of the Cold War. Together with strong allies in the Middle East, we faced down and defeated the threat of communism to the region. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the primary threat to America and the region became violent religious extremism. Through painful experience, it became clear that the old approach of promoting stability is unsuited to this new danger - and that the pursuit of security at the expense of liberty would leave us with neither one. Across the Middle East, many who sought a voice in the future of their countries found the only places open to dissent were radical mosques. Many turned to terror as a source of empowerment. And as a new century dawned, the violent currents swirling beneath the Middle East began to surface.

In the Holy Land, the dashed expectations resulting from the collapse of the Camp David peace talks had given way to the second intifada. Palestinian suicide bombers struck with horrific frequency and lethality. They murdered innocent Israelis at a pizza parlor, or aboard buses, or in the middle of a Passover Seder. Israeli Defense Forces responded with large-scale operations. And in 2001, more than 500 Israelis and Palestinians were killed. …