President Bush’s five-day Mideast trip fell far short of success. Indeed. “failure” might not be too strong a word.
For the second time this year, he went to Saudi Arabia as a public supplicant to convince Saudi Arabia to increase the flow of oil, and for the second time he was rebuffed by King Abdullah. If Bush didn’t know this would be the result, his advisers should have alerted him. Making the indignity worse was that oil futures then set a new record.
He sought, with indifferent results, to build support for his policy of further isolating Iran. The U.S. lack of progress on Iran was underscored Sunday when he had to cancel a meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, a U.S. ally, because of an ongoing crisis with Iranian-backed Hezbollah.
An audience of 1,500 Arab political and business leaders reacted stiffly to a Bush lecture urging them to adopt sweeping political, economic and cultural reforms. He got in an indirect dig at his host, Egypt’s autocratic Hosni Mubarak, who in fact does have the opposition leader in jail: “Too often in the Middle East, politics has consisted of one leader in power and the opposition in jail.” This would have had more resonance if the U.S. hadn’t quit nudging him toward democracy once we needed his support on Iraq.
He told the Arab dignitaries “we must stand with the Palestinian people who have suffered for decades and earned the right to have a homeland of their own.” That, too, might have had more resonance had he not just come from a fulsome and wholehearted embrace of Israel during which he made only passing reference to the Palestinians.
This was his second try this year at getting negotiations on a Palestinian state refired. His oft-stated goal was a Palestinian state by the end of his presidency but now, his advisers say, it will be counted a success if a “process” is in place.
Some of the coolness with which Bush was greeted was surely because he has only a short time left in office and the Arab leadership calculates that the wiser course is to wait it out and deal with his successor.
In the headily optimistic days of 2001-2002, Bush surely thought that a swing through the Mideast in the last year op his presidency would be a victory lap. Instead, it was a reminder of how far his policies have fallen short.