The Gilbert and Sullivan charade of statesmanship played out by George W. Bush and his enabler, Condoleezza Rice, as they wander the Middle East is a fitting end to seven years of misrule. Despots stripped of power are transformed from monsters into buffoons. And this is the metamorphosis that is eating away at the Bush presidency.
Bush stood in Jerusalem, uncomfortable and palpably bored. He mouthed platitudes about a peace settlement that mocked the humanitarian crisis he aided and abetted in Gaza, the rapacious land grab by Israel in the West Bank and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The diminished George Bush, increasingly irrelevant at home and abroad, is fading into insignificance. A year from now one half expects to see him stand up at the next president's inauguration and screech "I'm melting! I'm melting!" as he sinks into a puddle of slime. He will return, I expect, to his ranch, where he will be able to spend the rest of his life doing the only task for which he has shown any aptitude-cutting down brush with a chain saw.
He may yet rise again to torment us with an attack on Iran, condemning more innocents to slaughter. He and his cigar-smoking soul mate Ehud Olmert would like to go out with one more flash of mayhem and violence. But even this will not ultimately save him. Bush will soon be reduced to the cipher he once was, left to spend the rest of his life trying to salvage a legacy of shame and deceit. In a just world he would be put on trial, if not by the International Criminal Court of Justice then by the U.S. Congress. He would be forced to face up to his lies and wars of aggression. But the moral rot that infects the nation has seeped into the bowels of the legislative as well as the executive branch.
World leaders, including those whom Bush desperately wants to intimidate, now dismiss him. Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said a few days ago that relations with the United States are of "no benefit to the Iranian nation. The day such relations are of benefit, I will be the first one to approve of that."
Bush will have flown from Israel to Palestine to Kuwait to Bahrain to the United Arab Emirates to Saudi Arabia to Egypt in search of a legacy, one that he hopes will lift up his name in history. But, isolated and deluded, he has yet to grasp that he and the United States are reviled and detested for our violence, arrogance and greed. The bands played on the tarmac. He was toasted at state dinners. But even our allies, including Kuwait and Egypt, know Bush is a danger to himself and others.
He publicly displayed his inability to connect rhetoric with reality. He promised peace and cooperation, a new era, a Palestinian homeland. He promised solutions that will arise from negotiations that do not exist. Negotiations, in his eyes, are always about to begin. They were about to begin a year ago. They were about to begin with Annapolis. They are about to begin now. The messy issues between the Israelis and Palestinians that he and his administration have never attempted to address-the borders, the expanding Jewish settlements and outposts, the plight of Palestinian refugees and Jerusalem-will all be seamlessly solved ... one day. But the brutal reality of the Israeli occupation barrels forward. The Jewish settlements and outposts continue to be expanded. The crisis in Gaza, with the cuts in fuel and electricity, the deadly army incursions and airstrikes, has turned the world's largest walled prison into a swamp of human misery. And huge new settlements, like Har Homa, continue to rise up on Palestinian soil.
When Bush met with the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah he blithely defended the patchwork of Israeli roadblocks that have turned the West Bank into a series of ringed Palestinian ghettos. The roadblocks, he told Abbas, are necessary for Israeli security. He announced that the 1949 Green Line, the borders established by the United Nations, would never be restored. There would be no discussion, he said, of the status of Jerusalem. And the plight of Palestinian refugees would be solved by setting up an international fund, meaning, of course, that none would ever return. In short, he offered an unequivocal endorsement of right-wing Israeli policy with not a murmur of dissent. And the Palestinians can either have it rammed down their throat or rot. Bush will be back, he has promised, in May to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Jewish state. Olmert, no doubt, will again be fulsome in his praise, which is probably what Bush's trip to the Middle East is, at its core, really about. Bush desperately wants someone to pretend with him that he is an agent for peace and statesmanship. Olmert, who knows the callow American leader will give him everything he desires, is happy to oblige.
But as Bush basks in the glow of his own fantasy, the suffering in Gaza, one of the world's worst humanitarian disasters, along with the savage occupation of Iraq, continues to fuel widespread anger and rage. Bush has spent his time in office bolstering the Middle East's most despotic regimes, including that of Gen. Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. He approved a $20-billion arms package for these states. He has backed efforts to crush mainstream Islamic groups that have electoral legitimacy and popular support. He has stood by as these regimes have stifled democratic dissent, and he has, with Israeli encouragement, isolated governments, even friendly governments, in the Middle East that raised feeble protests. But his day is past. There is open revolt. Opinion polls show that two-thirds of Palestinians, and three-fourths of Israelis, do not believe Bush can affect events in the Palestinian territories.
The agenda of the Bush White House is exposed as irrelevant, myopic and counterproductive. Most Arab countries are in open defiance of Washington and are actively reaching out to Iran.
"As long as they [Iran] have no nuclear program ... why should we isolate Iran? Why punish Iran now?" Arab League Secretary-General Abu Moussa told The Washington Post.
The chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, is in Iran for talks. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attended December's Gulf Cooperation Council summit. The Iranian president attended the just-completed hajj in Mecca at the invitation of the Saudi monarch, King Abdullah. Tehran is exploring the resumption of diplomatic ties with Egypt, cut since the 1979 revolution, and has offered to cooperate with Cairo in the production of nuclear energy. And the Syrian and Lebanese governments have ignored Washington's warnings to sever ties with Hezbollah and Hamas.
It is the end of the road for George Bush. The world takes less and less notice of him. He strutted and swaggered across the stage. He bellowed and raged. He plundered and murdered. And now he wants to be anointed as a peacemaker. His presidency, like his life, has been a tragic waste. But he at least he has a life. There are tens of thousands of mute graves in Gaza, Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan that stand as stark testaments to his true legacy. If he wants to redeem his time in office he should kneel before one and ask for forgiveness.