Monday, January 12, 2009

Dubya's legacy of Peace (?!)

In late 2006 George W. Bush made headlines in Israeli newspapers by publicly stating that he "would understand" if Israel launched attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities. It didn't get major play in US media outlets at the time, but hardliners (on both sides) in the Midde East took notice. Even though Condolleeza Rice tried to downplay the comment, Bush's words were interpreted by some as a not-so-subtle approval of opening up a third front on the "War on Terror" (or was that "Axis of Evil"?). Speculation suggested that Bush would "go along" with an initiation of aggression in a preemptive strike to degrade Iran's ability to become a regional power. Obviously it didn't do much for US diplomacy with the Mullahs.

There were some in America that were perversely satisfied with the president's "hardline stance". Many on the Christian Right applauded their hero's willingness to encourage Armageddon. Zionists on the North American continent may have been a bit more circumspect about communicating their pleasure, but the signs indicated their favorable reaction. Certain civilian "thinkers" in the Defense Department licked their lips in anticipation. The war drums beat a trance-like rhythm that made forward momentum almost unavoidable. Yet bad news from the Iraqi front seemed to dampen the spirit, if only among the general population. Soon after the expression of "understanding", the political landscape changed through that year's election.

Now fast-forward to this past Fall, and the presidential contest between Barack Obama and John McCain. The Fourth Estate finally started doing its job, empowered somehow by Tina Fey and Katie Couric. The subject of possible strikes against Iran became an actual issue that inspired actual questions in an actual debate. Obama expressed his willingness to sit down and talk with the actual leadership of Iran (HINT: he wasn't talking about Ahmadinejad). For this he was mercilessly attacked by both his opponent and the Rightwing echo chamber. Meanwhile he wasn't getting much support from within his own party. No political figure wanted to risk alienating an important constituency capable of helping finance a successful campaign.

While YouTube footage of McCain's version of the Beach Boys' "Barbara Ann" continued to circulate among the discontents, NPR aired an interview between Terry Gross and Robert Baer. I happened to tune in that day and had all my assumptions about power politics in the Middle East challenged. So when McCain tried to batter Obama for his advocacy of "sitting down with our enemies", I paid very close attention. I tried to sort through the bullshit and figure out exactly what the candidates believed about the "threat" of Iran and the structure of influence in the Muslim world. I became acutely afraid that Bush would give the green light to Israel, and a conflagration would erupt. I slept fitfully until I distracted myself with other concerns.

Fortunately for Western civilization, we made it through one alluring window of opportunity for an Israeli raid on Iran. We still have a major issue to confront, but I feel better about our foreign policy direction. However, there's another piece of information that I have to absorb now. This week NPR and NYT are reporting that George W. Bush refused an Israeli request for "bunker busters" that they intended to drop on Iran. I find it ironic that the single greatest possible chance that Bush has for a positive legacy is the result of an inaction. The only way he could have topped that was not to run for the office in the first place. Our outgoing leader is fond of saying that history will be his judge, but I'd like to suggest that he's wrong... the consequences of his actions will stretch well into the future.

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