Ambassador Ryan Crocker meets with Iranian Ambassador Hassan Kazemi Qumi in Baghdad, May 2007.
Reaching into the same old bag of tricks of politicizing national security, President Bush used a speech on the floor of the Israeli Knesset to divert attention from his administration’s record on terrorism and attack his political opponents in the United States.
It’s a little jarring to see an American president use a speech while visiting a major ally to engage in politics at home, but there’s nothing new in this approach -– President Bush has used national security as a domestic wedge issue unlike any president in the history of the United States. It was a winning formula politically for conservatives for a while in 2002 and 2004, but by 2005 the approach ran out of steam, collapsing under the weight of the Bush administration’s steady stream of failures around the globe, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, North Korea, and Iran.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about this speech is that President Bush seems not only disconnected from the harsh realities of today’s Middle East -– he also seems disconnected from his own policies and their impacts on three counts:
1. Bush forgets that his own administration and other countries have engaged Iran. A focus of Bush’s speech was Iran and the very real threat it poses to stability in the Middle East. Ironically, the Bush administration itself has sent key officials on numerous occasions to meet with Iranian officials –- whether it was most recently sending U.S. diplomats to meetings on numerous occasions with Iranian officials to discuss Iraq, or coordinating closely with Iran in the early years of the Afghanistan war. Moreover, key U.S. allies like Britain, Germany, and France all engage Iran on a regular basis and in fact have embassies in Tehran. Did President Bush really mean to call these allies appeasers too? For example, should the British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who met recently with Iranian officials, ask for an apology from Bush? What about most of the leaders of the Iraqi government, which is closely aligned with Iran? Should they be offended too?
2. Bush tries to avoid the fact that his policies have strengthened the hands of groups like Hezbollah and Hamas and undermined Middle East security. A second irony in Bush’s speech is linked directly with today’s headlines –- that the Lebanese government was forced to reverse itself in the face of a violent takeover last week by the terrorist group Hezbollah. This comes less than a year after Hamas took over the Gaza Strip violently. These events are directly related to numerous policy failures by the Bush administration — including the failure to deliver support to pragmatic allies in the Palestinian Authority and Lebanon. As a result, the Lebanese and Palestinian people have suffered from violence, instability, and economic stagnation. And as a result, Israel’s security has been weakened -– another irony given that Bush was speaking on the floor of the Israeli parliament.
3. Bush ignores the 2002–2008 conservative record on terrorism. A broader blind spot that comes crystal clear from Bush’s speech today –- he is incapable of acknowledging that his administration’s policies have been ineffective in responding to the threats posed by global terrorist groups. This blind spot is perhaps understandable, because Bush has invested so much of his legacy in a strategy that has led to a more than four-fold increase in global terrorist attacks by 2005, a trend that has only increased in the three years since.
It might have been easier for President Bush to point the finger at his domestic critics in the early years of his administration and get away with it. But in the last nine months of a lame duck administration, it is time that President Bush stopped running away from his own record and face the reality of his own dismal record on terrorism. Al Qaeda remains a threat, its top leadership like Ayman Zawahiri regularly taunts the United States, and Iran has seen historic expansion of its influence throughout the Middle East –- all national embarrassments that no number of speeches by President Bush can cover up.