Pre-election concerns that George W. Bush had a weak grasp of world affairs have been confirmed by a succession of ideology-driven blunders and amateurish fumbles made by his administration that have damaged America's interests and image around the globe.
To wit: trying to rush the anti-missile defence project when there was no need for haste; the tactless rejection of the Kyoto environment accords; boycotting this weekend's UN racism conference at Durban; and, most disturbingly, fiddling while Palestine burns.
Who, one wonders, is running U.S. foreign policy? Certainly not the nearly invisible Secretary of State, Colin Powell, who was not even allowed to go to Durban.
Last week, Bush berated PLO chief Yasser Arafat for failing to end "Palestinian violence." Soon after, Israel assassinated Mustafa Zibri, a senior Palestinian political leader, by firing Maverick missiles from Apache helicopter gunships into his office. The next day, Israeli M-60 tanks and M-113 armored personnel carriers occupied the Palestinian Christian town of Beit Jala.
All of the above-noted weapons were supplied to Israel by the U.S. Israel is also using an arsenal of other U.S.-supplied weapons, from F-16 fighters to M16 rifles, against Palestinians. Israeli-designed Merkava tanks "pacifying" rebellious Palestinians were built with U.S. military aid.
Israel is the largest ever recipient of U.S. foreign aid - at least $91 billion since 1949, a sum that could have bought four complete aircraft carrier battle groups (about 80 ships) for the U.S. Navy. Each year, Israel gets $3 -$5 billion in U.S. aid.
The 1998 Wye River "peace" accords, negotiated by former president Bill Clinton, gave Israel an extra US$ 380 million for Apache helicopter gunships and armoured vehicles - both now being used against Palestinians. Just before leaving office, Clinton quietly sent Congress a request for an additional US$800 million in military aid for Israel.
Many American conservatives and Jewish Americans are praising Bush for giving Israel's right-wing government carte blanche to crush the Palestinian uprising and assassinate its leadership. VP Dick Cheney has repeatedly accused Palestinians of "terrorism" while praising Israel's "restraint."
Israel brushes aside occasional tut-tuts from the U.S. State Department, and ignores charges its American-supplied weapons are being used in direct violation of the U.S. Arms Export Control Act, which forbids recipients use of American arms except for national self-defence in wartime.
The White House and U.S. Congress, fearful of antagonizing the Israel lobby, have refused to address this issue. Ironically, it was left to Gush Shalom, the courageous Israeli peace movement, to protest to Bush the clearly illegal use of American arms against Palestinians.
It is increasingly clear that unless the mayhem in Palestine is ended, the entire Mideast could careen towards an explosion. Ariel Sharon, Israel's right-wing prime minister, has painted himself into a corner by vowing to crush the "intifada" and never allow a viable Palestinian state. Having provoked the uprising, and having vowed to break its back, Sharon now finds himself trapped in a cycle of violence, terror and counter-terror.
Sharon's only answer so far is more of what he has done his entire career: blowing up houses, assassination, martial law, collective punishments. Now Sharon's aides are hinting at attacks against Syria, Lebanon, Iran and even Egypt. Israeli critics are warning Sharon is running amok and must be reined in.
Given Sharon's adamant refusal to stop Jewish colonization or allow a Palestinian state, Palestinians have no reason to halt their uprising. Only America has the power to push the two sides into an eventual peace agreement.
Israel's repression of the Palestinian "intifada" is being telecast around the globe, producing rage against Israel and its patron, the United States, and a worldwide surge of anti-Semitism. America's strategic and economic interests across the Mideast and Muslim world are being threatened by the agony in Palestine, which inevitably invites terrorist attacks against U.S. citizens and property.
MUST HELP SHARON
President Bush needs to act urgently. He needs to help Sharon find a way out of the corner in which he is stuck. Sharon has left himself no line of political retreat - other than being seen to bow to irresistible American pressure. Bush and Cheney should cease helping Israel's right wing demonize Yasser Arafat, who, however guilty of condoning violence, is the man with whom Israel has to make peace. Being right wing does not automatically make one right.
Bush's vanishing act over the Mideast has handed the initiative by default to Arab and Israeli extremists. Unless the U.S. forcefully intervenes, Hamas suicide bombers and Sharon's death squads will determine policy. The result will be a disaster for Jews and Arabs alike.
Bush is being irresponsible and dishonest by pretending America has nothing to do with this horrible mess. America has everything to do with it and could stop the carnage overnight if the White House showed sufficient political will and courage. Bush needs to recall the old adage, "He who pays the piper, calls the tune."
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