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Bush Defames Obama On Middle East

This column was written by Katrina vanden Heuvel.

The Commander-in-Chief is now the Smearer-in-Chief. In Israel to celebrate the country's 60th birthday, President Bush chose to debase the event with the defamatory suggestion, made before the Israeli Knesset, that Barack Obama would appease terrorists by talking to Syria and Iran.

Obama moved quickly to call it a "false political attack" by a president whose failed policies have "strengthened Iran."

I would go on to point out that when it comes to talking to Syria, Israeli leaders would seem to agree with Barack Obama and not President Bush. As the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported, Israel and Syrian negotiators met in secret from September 2004 to July 2006 and reportedly agreed on the main points of a peace agreement. And there have been reports of interest on both the Israeli and Syrian side to meet to conclude a formal agreement this year. The Bush administration has actively opposed these talks and has discouraged Israel from moving forward with final negotiations on a peace agreement. Obama might well ask the failed Bush Administration: Would Israel (and the United States) be in a stronger position vis à vis Iran, if it made peace with Syria?

At every step of the way, the Bush administration has not missed an opportunity to bolster Iran's position in the Middle East. It destroyed Iran's principal adversary in Saddam Hussein, and then it ended up backing pro-Iranian forces in Iraq's new government. Indeed, the United States and Iran have for the most part been backing the same side in the power struggle in Iraq, both supporting the current governing coalition of Dawa, SCIRI, and the Kurds, all of which have strong ties to Iran. To be sure, Iran may have spread its bets among a wider group of Shiite militias but it has been consistent in its support of the Shia-Kurdish governing coalition while holding Sadr at a distance.

The administration's efforts to isolate the Hamas elected government in the occupied territories led to the predictable outcome of strengthening Iran's support for Hamas.

As Jeremy Ben-Ami, executive director of J Street, a newly formed lobby and political action committee that promotes peace and security in the Middle East (and serves to check and counter AIPAC), pointed out in last Sunday's Washington Post "Outlook" section: "Hamas won the recent Paletsinian national elections in a landslide. Do we seriously think [Hamas] can be erased from the political landscape simply by assassinations and sanctions? Precisely because Hamas and Iran represent the most worrisome strategic challenges to Israel, responsible friends of Israel who'd like to see it live in security for its next 60 years should be engaging with them to search for alternatives to war."

With its efforts to isolate Hezbollah in Lebanon and backing of Israel's disastrous war in Lebanon, we live with the result that Hezbollah is stronger than ever -- witness the latest clashes in Beirut.

The best thing for Israel and the Middle East therefore would be the earliest possible departure of the Bush administration. With a Barack Obama administration, Israel may finally conclude a peace agreement with Syria and may adopt a more pragmatic approach to dealing with Lebanon. And eventually, as an increasing number of Israel citizens seem to understand -- a recent poll in Haaretz showed that two-thirds of Israelis favor ceasefire negotiations between their government and Hamas -- their government will need to talk with Hamas because there will never be security until Hamas becomes accepted as a part of a future Palestinian government.

We should demand a real debate in this country about policies which would provide real security in the Middle East. As Ben-Ami makes clear: "Unquestioning encouragement for short-sighted Israeli policies such as expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank isn't real friendship."
By Katrina vanden Heuvel
Reprinted with permission from The Nation

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