Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

In a Region Known for Its Hospitality, Gulf Editors Take off the Gloves for Bush Visit

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

In a Region Known for Its Hospitality, Gulf Editors Take off the Gloves for Bush Visit

Article excerpt

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. Bush began his last year in office the way he should have spent his first: traveling to the Middle East to hear what this key region has to say. After spending two days in Israel and the West Bank without making major progress toward peace-and as Israel resumed its military attacks on the West Bank and Gaza Strip in earnest-the president head?ed for the Gulf. Residents in every city on his itinerary, from Ramallah to Riyadh, had to contend with virtual curfews, as schools and businesses closed amid tight security.

The president's reception in Kuwait, on Jan. 11, was quite different from his father's April 14, 1993 visit, when crowds welcomed him following the U.S.-led liberation of Kuwait in 1991. There are 15,000 U.S. troops stationed in Kuwait, which is a transit point for forces headed to Iraq. Kuwait has said it will not allow the United States to use its territory for any strike against Iran, however.

"Mr. President, the region needs smart initiatives not smart bombs," said the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Rai in a front-page editorial. Relatives of Kuwaiti detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, called for the release of the four remaining Kuwaiti prisoners.

Bush met with Kuwait's emir, Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah, who told the president he was delighted by his visit. "We are equally delighted to see you working on issues that are very important to all of us here," Sheikh Sabah said.

On Jan. 12 Bush became the first U.S. president to visit Bahrain, where he was greeted at the airport by King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa and sword dancers. U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT)/5th Fleet is headquartered in Manama, Bahrain. Protesters outside the U.S. Embassy in Manama chanted: "U.S. base out of Bahrain." Demonstrators carried a giant poster of Bush, under which they wrote in English: "Aggression against Iraq people is a war crime and a genocide." Another banner read, "Bush, you care about one Israeli prisoner but what about 10,000 Palestinian civilian prisoners?" Other signs stated: "America cares for oil, not democracy," and "Get out of Bahrain, criminal."

After a briefing on the Jan. 6 Strait of Hormuz alleged confrontation between U.S. Navy and Iranian boats, the president ate pancakes, syrup and bacon with American sailors, and proceeded to his next stop, the United Arab Emirates.

UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan and Vice President Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, greeted President Bush politely at the airport in Abu Dhabi. In a region known for its hospitality to visitors, editors of local newspapers took off their gloves. A "Letter to George W. Bush," published on the front page of Dubai's Gulf News, the UAE's leading English-language newspaper, on Jan. 10, 2008, read:

"Dear Mr. President:

"On the occasion of your first official trip to this vital region, it is only appropriate to raise a few points which might also be raised by the leaders you meet. Unfortunately, you landed here with prejudice and pre-formed opinions. By describing Israel, moments after you arrived, as 'the land of freedom' and 'justice,' you have shown total ignorance of the political situation in the Middle East and the issue you claim to want to solve in the remaining 12 months of your presidency.

"Israel, Mr. President, continues to defy every U.N. resolution, exercise unprecedented oppression on the occupied Palestinian people and persecute its Muslim and Christian population. We realize that containing Iran, selling more weapons and securing cheap oil supplies are the main issues on your mind as you tour the region. But you need to look beyond the neocon rhetoric and speak directly to the people who have been unjustly thrown out of their land, victimized by your 'strong ally' Israel.

"As for other matters, such as the promise of democracy and human rights, which you are expected to raise in your official talks in the region, we really don't take them seriously. …

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