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Goodbye President Bush!
 
George W Bush, the 43rd president of the USA, gave his final conference to the White House press corps today in which he made a rather robust defence of his eight-year legacy...

12 January   |   2009   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

... Defiant at times, reflective and even funny at others, the president still maintained his overall political viewpoint despite the fact that he enjoys the lowest approval ratings since the history of polls.

However, President Bush also admitted - albeit somewhat airily - to some ‘disappointments’ or even ‘mistakes’ during his two terms in the White House. The image of a president standing warrior-like aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln on 1 May 2003 with a Mission Accomplished banner behind him was a mistake, for instance, as was the infamy of the Abu Ghreib prison tortures. However, one was left with the clear impression that President Bush still believed firmly that historians will give him a more favourable by-line once the dust has settled and he has eclipsed to his ranch in Texas.

To many men and women, no matter in whichever continent of the world, President Bush has been an unfortunate mishap who failed quite early in his presidency to lead his nation and was hijacked after 9/11 by the neo-conservative ideology of the Cheneys, Roves, Rumsfelds, et al of Washington DC. In fact, his fumbling watch included major wars such as in Iraq and Afghanistan, saw the Middle East - and more specifically the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - ricochet wildly into alarming stasis or bloody violence and ended with the biggest financial disaster since 1937 and possibly even 1929.

I have written consistently against the Iraqi war, not because I was a supporter of a cruel dictator who butchered his way into power and well beyond, but because the grounds for this war were highly questionable in both legal and strategic terms. What weapons of mass destruction? As Hans Blink, the UN arms inspector, admitted publicly, those weapons were a dodgy pretext for an ideological war with nefarious global consequences. Iraq is littered with the graves of those who died since the invasion began in 2003, as are the US military cemeteries itself. It is quite true that there are at least as many graves - largely of Kurdish and Shi’i Iraqis - that were inhumed by Saddam Hussein but surely two wrongs do not make a right, do they?

However, I admit with relief that the situation has improved substantially on the ground in Iraq since the surge ordered by President Bush in early 2007. After all, the violence has diminished quite noticeably in most governorates, the Sofa will in all likelihood lead to a methodical drawdown of US troops in Iraq in such a way that president-elect Barrack Obama will not be boxed into an impossible corner, our own British troops will have left Basra by next summer, and Baghdad just witnessed the symbolic handover of the Green Zone to the Iraqi flag and the opening of the US and other embassies in Baghdad.

So in some sense, things seem to be shuffling ahead in Iraq, though not elsewhere in Gaza where the US Administration has been an obstruction rather than a solution to the warfare or even in Lebanon where a distressing lack of clarity persists over the parliamentary elections. However, two observations come to the fore. The first is that such a reduction in violence seems largely contingent upon the presence of those numbers of US troops. I wonder if this might still be the case once those troops have left the country, whether in 2011 or at another date. In fact, this is when we might well realise that democracy was not injected by President Bush into the region. After all, a healthy democracy in the Arab World has to grow from within society, but it can only do so if the efforts of its proponents were not constantly squelched and if they were not censored, harassed or imprisoned by their leaders or post-colonial masterminds simply for aspiring toward democratic values.

The other observation is that the policies exported by President Bush through a coterie of ideological (and therefore, by definition, dangerous) advisers has also made our world more unsafe. Why? Simply because his ill-advised policies have fomented further the kind of Ben Laden-image and al-Qa’eda-clone prototype of violence, radicalism and fanaticism. Here is a president who chose to open a series of Pandora boxes that provided its dangerous protagonists and unhinged choreographs with spurious pretexts to enhance their levels of global blackmail, violence and terror. Would the less injudicious and more ‘presidential’ way not have been to chart a course that dealt with real terrorism rather than chase ideological bogeys?

With a selective approach to democracy, and a legacy of extraordinary renditions and Guantanamo-like jurisdictions, I view with disfavour the policies of the outgoing president who has demoted America’s central role as a beacon of democracy and decency, of lofty values, of freedom of expression and human rights. As for Iraq, I appreciate the joy felt by its citizens upon their liberation from a vile despot. But did they truly gain democracy? Or will the power plays between the three main communities with their incinerating sectarianism prove to be their undoing and lead toward further ructions? Or could Iraqis learn from history and shelve their own interests for the sake of the larger good of their great country as a whole?

Goodbye President Bush! Welcome President-Elect Obama. Good luck to Iraq, and to the Middle East, in 2009.

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2009   |   12 January

 

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