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Bush, America and the Middle East

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    Bush, America and the Middle East By Ali Abunimah The Electronic Intifada 5 November 2004 http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article3291.shtml Had we awakened to
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 7, 2004
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      Bush, America and the Middle East

      By Ali Abunimah

      The Electronic Intifada 5 November 2004

      http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article3291.shtml

      Had we awakened to a John Kerry victory, anyone seriously concerned
      about the conflicts in Palestine and Iraq would have faced the stark
      reality that Kerry offered nothing substantially different from
      President George W. Bush in either situation. Yet that provides
      little consolation for seeing Bush re-elected, as the desire to see
      him defeated had little to do with support for Kerry. What many
      wanted was accountability - to see the author of so many disastrous
      policies thrown out.

      But a majority of American voters handed a new mandate to Bush
      despite the fact that he started an illegal war which may have cost
      the lives of 100,000 innocent Iraqis (according to the latest study
      published in The Lancet) and more than 1,000 Americans. This war has
      no end in sight. At home, Bush has presided over an ailing economy
      and an unprecedented budget deficit, while the number of Americans
      without any health insurance has increased to over 50 million.

      Bush owes his victory in great part to the incoherence of his
      Democratic opponents, who supported the war from the beginning and
      could offer no principled opposition to it during the campaign. Kerry
      was the default choice and emotional harbor for anti-war voters even
      though he was reduced to carping about tactics while presenting no
      convincing alternatives to Bush's failed policies. With such
      ineffectual opposition Vice President Dick Cheney brazenly called
      Iraq "a remarkable success story" in the last week of the campaign.

      At the same time, Bush's simple, defiant statements about "fighting
      terrorism" were highly reassuring to most Americans. The campaign
      contained little serious discussion of the fact that despite the
      public relations and the bureaucratic reshuffling and renaming, the
      United States is only marginally better protected against another
      massive attack by Osama bin Laden or anyone else. Kerry may have
      been reluctant to appear to be pointing to holes in U.S. security
      that could be construed as inviting attacks, but his silence worked
      to Bush's advantage.

      The election results also confirm some long-term trends with serious
      implications for the Middle East as well as the U.S. Across much of
      the country, Republicans seem to be on an inexorable rise. They offer
      Americans a simple message characterized by disdain for government
      combined with fundamentalist religious fervor, all wrapped in a
      simplistic and self-satisfied patriotism that presents the United
      States as simultaneously (and contradictorily) the greatest and
      strongest country on earth and a country beset by teeming enemies who
      present a mortal danger.

      Evangelical Christians, who are a huge segment of Bush's base, see
      U.S. support for Israel as central to the fulfillment of biblical
      prophecies which they hope will trigger Armageddon. As influential
      evangelical preacher and former presidential candidate Pat Robertson
      recently warned, any pressure on Israel from Bush to relinquish any
      part of Jerusalem would interfere with "God's plan" and be grounds
      for breaking with him.

      Against this background, Bush has shifted the goal posts of the
      Palestine-Israel debate such that Likudist thinking is now viewed as
      centrist. This was demonstrated by Kerry's campaign which warmly
      endorsed Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's policies. But the
      bankruptcy of the discourse was brought home in a most personally
      disappointing way.

      Illinois swept Barack Obama, a rising star in the Democratic party,
      into the United States Senate with a stunning 70 percent of the
      vote - a rare Democratic gain. Obama, whom I've met many times, has
      served as my local state senator in the Illinois legislature. I
      found him to be an inspiring politician, not least because he
      appeared to understand Middle East issues and take progressive views
      supporting Palestinian rights and opposing militarism. He
      participated in many events in the Chicago-area Arab community
      including a 1998 fundraiser with Edward Said as the keynote speaker.
      I even made contributions to his campaigns.

      But following Obama's nationally-televised address at the Democratic
      National Convention everything seemed to change. In the campaign's
      final weeks, Obama proclaimed his support for tough sanctions and
      military strikes against Iran if it refused U.S. demands to give up
      its nuclear programs. According to the Chicago Tribune, Obama now
      says that the onus of peace in the Middle East "is on the
      Palestinian leadership, which ... must cease violence against
      Israelis and work 'to end the incitement against Israel in the Arab
      world." The unique fact about Obama's campaign is that he did not
      need to parrot the pro-Israel lobby's standard line to get elected.
      He ran effectively unopposed. Such a capable and ambitious man must
      have calculated that any hope of higher office requires that he not
      offend when it comes to Israel and its interests. This begs the
      question: If a man like Obama will not speak frankly when it comes
      to Israel, what hope is there for a change in U.S. policy coming
      from within the establishment?

      A senior official close to French President Jacques Chirac told The
      New York Times on election night that "the most pressing foreign-
      policy issue for whoever is elected president must be the Israeli-
      Palestinian crisis." The official further asked: "Will there be a
      decision by the American president to restart a dialogue? ... This
      is what we expect from the new president. This is the cause of a lot
      of the anti-Western feeling in the world."

      But it is clear there will be no serious dialogue started by the
      United States. Already the Israeli government is exuding confidence
      it will come under no new American pressure. The next four years
      then will be a transition point for the conflict: We are likely to
      see the decisive defeat of the two-state concept by the reality
      Israel is creating on the ground, accompanied by sharp escalation.

      If Europe is as concerned as it professes to be, it will have to
      develop its own strategy. It must be prepared to confront both the
      United States and Israel. This would require Europe to show more
      unity and political will than it ever has before. The extent to
      which this is likely will depend on whether the second Bush
      administration takes a more accommodating approach on a whole range
      of other vital European interests.

      The rest of the world, which lived in hope that Bush would be just a
      brief interlude before a return to business as usual, must now
      fundamentally re-examine its approach to the United States. Bush may
      represent only a bare majority of Americans, but there is a lot of
      evidence that it is an ascendant one.

      At the same time, the millions of Americans who oppose the war in
      Iraq and see that Bush's policies bring more danger to their country
      have to confront the reality that electoral politics failed abjectly
      to provide a vehicle to advance their interests. The Democratic
      Party must now enter a long period of self-examination. It must
      emerge as a genuine alternative to the Republicans or face
      irrelevance. But the world cannot afford to wait for that. Bush's
      victory presents the opportunity and urgent necessity for Americans
      to join people all over the world in building a powerful, grassroots
      peace movement to end the war in Iraq and prevent further "success
      stories."

      Ali Abunimah is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada.

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