A Legacy of Lies and Delusion
By Rami G. Khouri
10 Dec 2008
BEIRUT -- In the past week, both President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have given us the intellectual equivalent of what lame ducks do when they paddle away into oblivion, as they offer one more flap of the wings and spread of the tail feathers.
Both Bush and Rice have been attempting valiant but ultimately pitiful efforts to attract some praise for what most would see as deserving of ignominy and isolation. In separate media interviews, they have tried their hand at real-time historical revisionism and plain old-fashioned political fantasy, by claiming that they leave the Middle East in better shape than it has been for decades.
It is hard to imagine a more false statement of fact, but perhaps this is no surprise for an administration that has based its policies in the Middle East on a foundation of falsehoods, constructed it largely of misdiagnoses, and buttressed it by recurring misperceptions.
These two otherwise honorable citizens rose far beyond their political and intellectual abilities, to wander in alien and confusing corridors where they have understood little, fantasized often, and done much more harm than good.
Their claim of leaving the Middle East in better shape than they found it is their ultimate insult and lie. Here, from the vantage point of the Middle East, is what Bush and Rice leave behind in our region:
1. The situation in Iraq is very delicate and violent, and is likely to remain so for years to come. Ethno-sectarian tensions in Iraq have been institutionalized, and have started to spill over into other countries (for instance, Shiite-Sunni tensions and occasional clashes in Lebanon are new, and a direct consequence of the Iraq war).
2. The precarious situation in Iraq could -- if it deteriorates as the United States withdraws -- spark trouble or active warfare with several neighboring countries, notably Turkey, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Iran.
3. Iran's influence in the region is far greater now than it was in 2001, due in large part to the Iraq war adventure.
4. Iranian relations with the United States and major Western powers have deteriorated badly, while the American-led strategy of confronting Iranian nuclear ambitions with sanctions and threats has failed. Iran has advanced rapidly in its nuclear enrichment industry, and this has generated new tensions with some Arab governments and Israel.
5. Major Arab allies of the United States -- such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan -- are in more precarious condition now than they were eight years ago. They find themselves uncomfortably perched between their own reliance on U.S. support and protection and their people's growing anti-American sentiments, and also between their fears of Iran and their people's cheering on of Iran's defiance of Israel and the United States.
6. The hysterical American over-reaction to 9/11 -- a combination of warfare and aggressive ideological exhortations and pressures for freedom and democracy -- has neither promoted democracy nor reduced terrorism. In fact it may have achieved the opposite: Terrorism is a continuing and expanding problem in the Arab-Asian region that has been exacerbated in part by on-the-job terror training and recruitment in Iraq; meanwhile, Arab allies in the U.S. "global war on terror" have strangled and silenced the few nascent liberal or democratic openings that existed in the Arab world eight years ago. Indigenous Arab democrats are an extinct species for the moment, partly due to their association with Washington's deadly policies.
7. Worse than this perhaps is the damage done to the United States' own standing in the Middle East, where Washington is deeply marginalized, and is neither feared nor respected -- an astounding situation for a country of such immense global power, vital national interests in the region, and natural allies in the hundreds of millions of Middle Easterners who gravitate to its historical principles of justice, equality, freedom, democracy and opportunity.
8. Every internal or local political battle the United States has entered -- such as in Lebanon, Palestine, Somalia -- it has lost, and its enemies have been strengthened.
9. This has bolstered the broad regional alliance of forces that is headed by Iran, Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas, and that gravitates heavily -- perhaps primarily -- around resistance to American-Israeli policies.
10. Political violence that had once been episodic and locally anchored is now chronic and often inter-linked throughout the region, in part as a response to the actual or threatened use of force by the United States all over the Middle East and South Asia.
11. The Arab-Israeli conflict remains beyond resolution for the moment, partly due to the United States heavily siding with Israel and refusing to deal with Hamas, which is now entrenched in its own little mini-state that it will not easily give up.
This is the pathetic legacy of the Bush-Rice years, and an even more enormous tragedy and burden for the people of the Middle East who inherit this mess, and cannot retire to Dallas or Palo Alto. For Bush-Rice to claim they leave the region in better shape than before is to add both delusion and insult to their already formidable legacy of lies, illusion and destruction.