Another Bush Fantasy Shattered

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Monday, May 19, 2008; 1:44 PM

The notion that President Bush could serve as an honest broker between Israelis and Arabs has always been something of a fantasy.

Now it appears to be a fantasy the lame-duck Bush White House is no longer willing to put much effort into sustaining.

The Israeli portion of Bush's latest trip to the Middle East was a nearly nonstop love fest, with Bush enthusiastically celebrating the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Jewish state, delivering a speech that imbued Israel with the same absolute moral authority that he claims for himself, and bathing in adulation that literally brought tears to his eyes. In all the excitement, Bush nearly forgot to even mention his lip-service devotion to a Palestinian state.

But in Egypt, when it came time to address an Arab audience, Bush was hectoring and remote. He not only chastised Arab leaders for failing to live up to his moral standards, but he held up occupied Iraq as one sign that "the light of liberty is beginning to shine" in the Middle East, and he urged Arab countries to wean themselves off oil revenues.

No wonder his reception was chilly at best.

The Coverage

Jeffrey Fleishman writes in the Los Angeles Times: "In vivid contrast to his effusive stopover in Israel, President Bush ended a five-day Middle East trip on Sunday by criticizing Arab nations for political repression and urging them toward economic reforms and women's rights.

"The president's speech at the World Economic Forum in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el Sheik crystallized an approach that in Arab eyes stubbornly favors Israel over their own concerns and interests. . . .

"The mood was markedly different from that on Wednesday, when Bush began his tour of the region by celebrating Israel's 60th anniversary and receiving a standing ovation in the parliament, or Knesset, for uttering 'Happy Independence Day' in Hebrew. . . .

"The Bush administration has been blamed for such favoritism for years, and Sunday's comments appeared to underscore the president's misgivings about the Arab world while lauding its economic potential.

"'The president was himself, finally. Maybe because this is the end of his political career,' said Ghassan Khatib, a former Palestinian Cabinet minister and now a lecturer at Birzeit University. 'This is actually him. This is George Bush the human being, not the politician. . . . I always thought he was a Christian Zionist and a fundamentalist ideologue.' . . .

"The president's calls for ending political repression and widening democracy strike many in the region as hypocrisy. . . .

"The Bush administration has relied on the support of Egypt and Saudi Arabia -- countries with poor human rights records that frequently jail political opponents -- to help contain Iran and bring stability to Iraq and Lebanon."

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