Any Change From Bush's Fundamentalism Will Do
There is an insidious view going the rounds in Washington that says it won't make much difference to US foreign policy what new president takes office next year, the basic building blocks of security interests, commitment of troops in Iraq, pro-Israeli policies in the Middle East and the projection of American military power around the globe will all remain.
In fact, according to one highly-spun version being pushed by the State Department at the moment, the present incumbent of the White House, George W Bush, is already preparing the way by adopting a more emollient foreign policy, mending bridges with allies, softening the rhetoric of confrontation and seeking a peace settlement between Israel and Palestine
Utter hogwash. Anybody taken in by this nonsense should read the two major speeches by President Bush on his Middle East "peace tour" over the past week. The first was his address to the Israeli Knesset on the occasion of the state's 60th anniversary last Thursday. The second was to the World Economic Forum meeting in Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt last Sunday.
The two were clearly intended as bookmarks for a visit planned to establish Bush's legacy as a would-be peacemaker. Indeed, the US President even used the same terms in each of the two speeches, that the democratic system is the "only fair and just ordering of society and the only way to guarantee the God-given rights of all people", that the US is the progenitor and guarantor of freedom around the world and that freedom means free markets and open competition.
So far so pretty much expected from an American president given to hyperbole in his last year of office. But there the similarity between the two Bush speeches in the Middle East ends. The address to the Knesset attracted attention because it appeared to contain an implicit criticism of Barack Obama back home for wanting to talk with Iran and Hamas, thus breaching the normal niceties under which a president does not use speeches abroad to pursue domestic politics.
But the real importance of the speech is in what it did not say rather than what it did. An American president, with probably more influence than any American leader since Israel's inception because of his total commitment to their cause, arrives in the country supposedly to pursue a peace plan and, in his most important public address, does not mention the peace and does not ask the Israeli government to make a single concession to further it. Not a reference or request or hint in the entire address, just a paean of praise for a country which has "forged a free and modern society based on the love of liberty, a passion for justice, and a respect for human dignity".
The extreme right and orthodox religious parties were delighted. Liberal members of the Knesset, who had hoped for some gesture of pressure by the US president on their Prime Minister to offer concessions to the Palestinian, if only to stop the expansion of settlements, were aghast. It was, said a seasoned, and normally balanced observer, "the most shameful speech I have ever heard since I started reporting".
Compare that to to Bush's speech to the Arabs in Egypt three days later. It is a long list of demands on them. They must, he lectured, institute "economic reform" if they are to take their "place in the centre of progress". "Economic reform must be accompanied by political reform". "Property rights" must be "protected and risk-taking encouraged". Primary schools must teach "basic skills, such as reading and math, rather than indoctrinating children with ideologies of hatred".
And so the liturgy of requirements on these backward people goes on. The Arabs must stand "shoulder to shoulder" with the US in the "great ideological struggle" against "terrorist organisations and their state sponsors". They must oppose "Hezbollah terrorists, funded by Iran", while "all nations in the region must stand together in confronting Hamas, which is attempting to undermine efforts at peace with acts of terror and violence".
The style is the very man, as the French naturalist the Comte de Buffon said. Bush does genuinely believe that democracy is a blessing given by Almighty God to mankind and that the US is its agent and Israel its exemplar. But, as far as the rest of the world is concerned, he has made America appear quite blatantly one-sided, an ignorant and incompetent military mammoth wrecking everything in its ill-considered path.
Back in Washington, John McCain was quick to follow up Bush's speech by demanding that Obama declare his intentions on talking to Iran and Hamas. And that may prove the tenor of the Republican attacks on the Democrat in the coming months. But outside the narrow confines of Washington, no American should be in any doubt. The world is desperate for a change of tone and course from the US of George Bush. Nothing short of a revolution will do.