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What is it about retiring presidents and their legacies?
By Ray Hanania — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has visited the Middle East more in the past several months than during her entire term in office. In addition to trying to close a deal to remove American soldiers from Iraq, Rice seems eager to push the Palestinians and Israelis into some kind of deal before her boss leaves office. The push in Iraq is not surprising. The war has been a disaster and Bush needs to show that he was in control before he leaves office and loses all control. Bush will forever be remembered for his lies, deceit and his mishandling of the War on Terrorism, pushing Americans into the wrong front against al-Qaeda and failing to capture the mastermind of Sept. 11, 2001, Osama Bin laden.
One way to do that is to finalize a date in which American troops will have a clear date for withdrawal before he leaves office.
Another way to shore up your “presidential legacy” is to resolve the irresolvable. And no conflict is more difficult to resolve than the Palestine-Israel conflict. The Palestinians want a deal but they can’t get past their emotions. The Israelis want a deal but they are greedy and refuse to surrender what they have taken through conflict.
Bush is inspired not by his predecessor President Bill Clinton, who also made a last minute rush to achieve Middle East peace – it failed miserably and sent the region into new levels of hate and violence.
The role model is President Jimmy Carter, who despite a difficult four years in office plagued by the Iranian hostage crisis, was able to carve a place in world history by bringing two of the many foes in the Middle East conflict to the peace table and to a peace accord, former terrorist and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Began and Egyptian dictator and President Anwar Sadat.
It’s interesting about legacies. Sadat was a military dictator who oppressed his people. But sign a deal with Israel and all your sins are washed away in history’s legacy books. It cost him his life, but then, he cost thousands their lives, too.
Carter received the Noble Peace Prize and is remembered not for his honest and frank criticism of Israel’s brutal occupation, but for his diplomacy in helping to bridge differences between Begin and Sadat.
If Carter can only bring Palestinians and Israelis together in a peace accord, maybe, just maybe the world might forget or at least push aside his incompetent administration, his deceitful strategy that pushed America in a war in Iraq that is more about oil and contracts for his vice president’s company, Halliburton, than it is about fighting terrorism.
The Iraq war has created more terrorism. It has exposed American to more potential violence and threats. It has strengthened, not weakened al-Qaeda, despite all the propaganda blather and public relations spin from his rightwing army of media commissars.
Is that all the Palestine-Israel conflict is worth to anyone?
Isn’t there anyone who is really concerned about ending a conflict that is the foundation of nearly every conflicted in the Middle East, a region that has a massive influence not just over the United States but the entire world?
Republican President candidate John McCain and his Democratic rival Barack Obama both will face the challenges of the Middle East if they win the presidency.
McCain’s strategy will be to continue to failed policies of the Bush administration, holding his heroic service in Vietnam as a shield to distract people from his record of supporting Bush’s failed policies.
McCain lacks a strategy to resolve the conflict and his only priority is to speak to the politics of the conflict to win over pro-Israel voters.
Obama has not been much different. He’s probably the only person who has a shot at becoming an American President who understands the Palestine-Israel conflict.
He built up relationships over the years with Palestinian leaders and had an empathy for their suffering, when having an empathy didn’t impact his political career.
Now that he is a presidential candidate, Obama has shifted away from principle to pandering to politics. He wants to win and become the president, the nation’s first African American. A “phenom” who rose from obscurity off of a moving speech at the Democratic convention four years ago.
Could it be that Obama has not abandoned his principles and will return to them after the election? The reality is that you can’t do good as president unless you win the presidency. The Middle East conflict is only one of many big issues facing Americans, such as the spiraling economy, the Iraq war debacle, and other domestic issues.
Once in office, Obama can return to being a pragmatist and do what few presidents have had the courage to do, stand up to the foreign lobby that places Israel’s interests above the interests of the American people.
Brutally occupying another people, stealing their lands and homes has been transformed into the “American interests” by Israel’s powerful lobbying arm, AIPAC. Americans believe that oppression and near-Apartheid-like policies in the occupied West Bank are a part of the principles and morals that make this country great.
They’re not, but most Americans are not educated enough or brave enough to challenge Israel’s government’s assertions.
Obama could be that person. Or, Obama might be just like everyone else before him. Sure, he’ll say the Palestine-Israel conflict is important, but will he force Israel to do what needs to be done to return land in exchange for a real peace?
Or, will he simply cave in to the pressures of Israel’s massive army of political supporters in the United States who define Middle East policy based on fear and racism, opposing the Palestinians because of their race and perceived “Islamic” religion while ignoring the international laws that make their cause just?
It’s hard to say. But one thing is clear. If Israel doesn’t do the right thing soon, chances are no one will need to worry about forcing Israel to do anything.
As the conflict continues, it only strengthens the hand of the religious extremists who continue to grow in strength in the Middle East partly because of growing religious fervor, partly because of President Bush’s stupid invasion of Iraq, and partly because Americans are not free to do the right thing when it comes to Israel.
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Ray Hanania is an award winning political columnist and author. He covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).
Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com, and for TheArabDailyNews.com, and TheDailyHookah.com.
Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media;In 2009, he received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. Hanania has also received two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild, and in 1990 was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
His wife and son are Jewish and he performs standup comedy lampooning Arab-Jewish relations, advocating for peace based on non-violence, mutual recognition and Two-States.
His Facebook Page is Facebook.com/rghanania
Email him at: RGHanania@gmail.com
Visit this link to read Ray's column archive at the ArabNews,com ArabNews.com/taxonomy/term/10906
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