What's the Motivation?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, August 4, 2006; 12:52 PM

President Bush often complains about lack of transparency in places like North Korea or, more recently, Cuba -- and contrasts that with the United States.

Here he is in Vienna in June: "We're a transparent democracy. People know exactly what's on our mind. We debate things in the open. We've got a legislative process that's active."

But the reality is that, particularly when it comes to Bush's foreign policy, the minimal press access to the intensely secret inner workings of the White House and the almost complete lack of effective Congressional oversight have left Bush's decision-making process largely a mystery.

Case in point: What is really motivating our policy in the Middle East? And who's really making the decisions? We don't know.

These are particularly important questions as the Bush White House's nearly absolute deference to Israel in the current Lebanese conflict strains other alliances and arguably makes the situation in the Middle East deadlier and more intractable every day.

So we look for clues.

Some Clues

On Wednesday, Sheryl Gay Stolberg wrote in the New York Times about how Bush's strong predisposition to support Israel contrasts with his father's.

"Unlike the first President Bush, who viewed himself as a neutral arbiter in the delicate politics of the Middle East, the current president sees his role through the prism of the fight against terrorism. This President Bush, unlike his father, also has deep roots in the evangelical Christian community, a staunchly pro-Israeli component of his conservative Republican base."

Today, Ron Hutcheson of McClatchy Newspapers writes: "If there's a starting point for George W. Bush's attachment to Israel, it's the day in late 1998 when he stood on the hilltop where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount, and, eyes brimming with tears, read aloud from his favorite hymn, 'Amazing Grace.'

" 'He was very emotional. It was a tear-filled experience,' said Matthew Brooks, a prominent Jewish Republican who escorted Bush, then governor of Texas, and three other GOP governors on the Middle East visit. 'He brought Israel back home with him in his heart. I think he came away profoundly moved.'

"Eight years later, Bush is living up to his reputation as the most pro-Israel president ever. As Israel's military action in Lebanon heads into its fourth week, the president is standing firm against growing international pressure for an immediate cease-fire."

Yesterday, I noted former Newsday and Knight Ridder White House correspondent Saul Friedman 's essay on NiemanWatchdog.org: "I believe this to be the first time in modern American history that a president's religion, in this case his Christian fundamentalism, has become a decisive factor in his foreign and domestic policies. It's a factor that has been under-reported, to say the least, and that begs for press attention."

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