The Current Discussion: The G-8 summit is Bush's last hurrah as a world leader. What's one thing he can do to strengthen his legacy?
I don’t think Bush needs to strengthen his legacy. It has already been deeply engraved in the history of the Middle East. George W. Bush has in fact ruined the Middle East.
No words can describe my anger at what the United States has tolerated or promoted in the Middle East under the Bush White House. The list is long: the war on Iraq, Abu Ghraib, Haditha, Falluja, Mosul, the war on Lebanon, Qana, and not to forget, the circus in Palestine, the killing in Jenin, and the siege in Gaza, topped with the elimination of Yasser Arafat, a democratically elected leader. These images have always reminded me of Sept. 11, 2001. The blood of these children—in Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq—is no less valuable than that of Americans killed at the Twin Towers. Many Americans have been sending me “hate mail” recently, saying that the Bush Administration has been good to the Arabs and is trying to bring peace, security, and democracy to the Middle East. Sorry to tell them that this White House will be remembered for Abu Ghraib. It will be remembered for the atrocities in Gaza. It will be remembered for Qana.
Bush has perhaps single-handedly re-written the history of the Middle East—certainly against our will. This history has been very bloody and embarrassing for America, and it will affect America’s image for generations to come. Allow me to quote the former and legendary U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, who spoke to Congress on Dec. 1, 1862 saying: “Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration will be remembered in spite of ourselves. The fiery trail through which we pass will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation.”
In our part of the world, Bush has marched into history in great dishonor.
Each country singled out by the White House as a haven for democracy and progress has been ruined, beyond imagination, by his policies in the Arab World. America’s image has been perverted, distorted, and tarnished beyond repair in the minds of the millions of Arabs and non-Arabs who are disgusted by all the bloodshed we are seeing in Iraq, Palestine, and Lebanon.
Everybody in the Arab World holds Bush responsible for all of this madness, along with prime ministers Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon, and Ehud Olmert. I always wanted to write to the U.S. President and tell him: “Think for a minute, Mr. President, about how history will refer to you 100 years from now. Will you be ranked among great men like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, or Franklin Roosevelt? What have they done for America and what have you achieved? Washington achieved independence for America. Lincoln fought the Civil War. Wilson won World War I and Roosevelt defeated Hitler in World War II. You ruined the image of your forefathers—the great men who founded and created the modern United States.”
To a mother whose child was killed in Qana, Washington, Lincoln, Wilson, Roosevelt, and Bush, will all be viewed as criminals. A grief-stricken person will not differentiate between good and evil, or right and wrong. He or she will hold America responsible for the death of their loved ones. I personally have high admiration for the American presidents mentioned above. They were strong leaders with talent, principle, and character. Bush is responsible for ruining their image in the Arab World.
To prove my point, I repeat a phrase that I have used over and over again since 2004, quoting Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts who said: "To many people in the Middle East, the symbol of America is not the Statue of Liberty but a prisoner standing on a box wearing a dark cape, a dark hood on his head, afraid he is going to be electrocuted."
Many discussions were held by American policymakers and intellectuals in the United States, after September 11, on one question: “Why do they hate us?” The answer can be summarized with one simple phrase: “Favoritism towards Israel.” What happened over the last eight years—in Palestine and Lebanon—was an unforgivable crime committed by Israel, under the watchful eye of the United States, thanks to Bush.
I received a very large amount of “hate mail” from Americans and pro-Israeli readers over the last few years in response to the series of articles I have written against the Israeli War on Lebanon, which coincides with July 12, 2008.
These readers were enraged by my condemnation of the United States and Israel, claiming that the “war on terror” was correct and justified. One reader wrote: “You are an ungrateful man and I am done reading your site” because of what I had just written about Israel and the United States.
At the same time, I received many, many e-mails from Arab readers who supported my arguments, saying that Bush’s bias against the Arabs was “an unforgivable crime”—in every sense of the world.
I happen to personally know many of the Arab readers with whom I have communicated. They are not turbaned and bearded fanatics who roam the world with guns, wanting to destroy Israel and the United States. Rather they are fine, Westernized, American-educated and highly cultured Arab men and women (many are actually not even Muslims) who have never carried a gun in their life. One addressed the Bush administration and cursed its policy-makers saying that they have “abused the names of the great men of American history."
The colossal difference in views, and the accumulating anger on both sides, makes dialogue and understanding extremely difficult—especially in times of war; especially under George W. Bush.
One reader commented on my work, saying that he was “disgusted” because I was “demonizing the U.S. for trying to bring peace and democracy to the Middle East.” He added, “If you are too ignorant and too stupid to see that, then maybe you aren’t worth U.S. blood and gold.” Another reader added, and I quote him at length: “Go buddy up with Syria, go buddy up with Hizbullah, Hamas, Iran, and go live in a piece of … world that glorifies suicide bombing by children, glorifies naked anti-Semitism and ignorance of the Holocaust, ‘honor kills their women and forces them to wear burkhas. Go ahead and chose to keep your part of the world uneducated, unemployed, and hopeless. Go ahead and chose to keep the Middle East the gutter of the world while America has the compassion to try and help you by removing the cancer affecting your region.”
In response, I write: What blood and what gold were spilled and paid by the Americans for the Arab World? I am astonished that an educated American would think in such a manner. America did not come to this part of the world to tutor or to educate. This is the biggest falsification brought to the world by President Bush.
Iraq was destroyed and looted under the Americans. There are over 10 people dying per day in America’s Iraq—so much for democracy and education. At one point it was more than 35 people dying per day in Iraq, meaning that more than one death occurs per hour in the “new and democratic Iraq.”
At one point more than 1,500 died per month in America’s Iraq. Mass graves—all created after Saddam Hussein, have been found in America’s Iraq, dug up by the Iraqis themselves under America’s watchful eye. Death squads are free to roam the streets, killing Iraqis by night.
Five years after the US invasion of Iraq, one cannot but wonder how the Americans missed a golden opportunity to create a secure democracy in the country to replace the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.
Optimists in the Arab world, especially pro-Western and particularly pro-American Arabs, defended the United States until curtain fall, saying that it truly would root out terrorism from Iraq, and bring both stability and democracy to the Iraqi people.
Every one of those beliefs has been shattered - over and over again, since March 2003. As Iraq enters its sixth year since 2003, it is safe to ask: what has been achieved? What can I describe as American “compassion” towards the Arabs?
Apart from the downfall of Saddam, not a single achievement is noteworthy in Iraq. The country today is a "democracy" in civil war - a democracy where human life is being wasted, along with the dreams and security of the Iraqi people. Inasmuch as free elections are a great asset of which all oppressed people dream, they mean nothing if security is lacking.
History will not remember the free elections that took place in January and December 2005 as much as it will remember the notorious pictures of the torture at Abu Ghraib prison. The killings and the death squads that haunt the streets of Iraq will live much longer in the minds of Iraqi people than the image of Saddam's statue falling in Baghdad.
Bush’s America did not come to democratize the Iraqis. It came to expand its sphere of influence, replace that of the former USSR, control the rise of political Islam, rebuild the Iraq it had destroyed, make use of Iraq’s oil wealth, and safeguard the security of Israel. Must I remind my American reader of the scandals of Abu Ghraib? Those pictures alone show how much compassion the Americans have for the Arabs. Must I remind him of the killing of 24 Iraqis in cold blood by U.S. marines at Haditha in November 2005 or of the killing of 11 Iraqi civilians by U.S. troops in the village of Ishaqi in March 2006?
The Arabs remember too clearly that it was the Americans who initially supported Saddam Hussein's rise to power in 1979, simply because he challenged Iran. It was the Americans who orchestrated the first coup d'etat in Syria in 1949, toppling the democratically elected president Shukri al-Quwatli and replacing him with General Husni al-Za'im, a stooge of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), because the latter promised to respond to U.S. needs in the Middle East. These were mainly a crackdown on communism, a ceasefire with Israel, and privileges to Tapline, a U.S. oil company.
The fact that Quwatli had been democratically elected by his people meant nothing to the CIA, the White House or the Pentagon in 1949. The fact that Yasser Arafat, another democratically elected president, was besieged to his office in 2001-2004 also meant nothing to the Americans who said that he was “irrelevant” and completely ignored him—along with the will and choice of the Palestinian people, because he refused to become an American stooge in the Middle East.
The Americans must give to win the trust of the Arabs.
Arabs will only begin to have faith in the U.S. and the Bush White House when peace is brought to the Palestinians, security is maintained in Iraq, and American statesmen show more interest in real Arab domestic issues and democracy.
The Americans have also failed to portray themselves as honest brokers in the Arab-Israeli conflict, which is the cornerstone of grievances to the Arab majority. The real problem that the Americans fail to understand is not Arafat, nor terrorism, nor Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, but land and freedom for the Palestinians. Once that is secured, a majority of Arabs will start to trust America.
The road to peace in the Middle East runs through Jerusalem, not Baghdad. On the issue of Palestine, there is consensus among the 200 million Arabs. Since September 2000, more than 50,000 people have been left homeless in Gaza alone. The Occupied Territories currently suffer from 40 percent unemployment, and in Gaza alone it is over 50 percent. When the intifada broke out in 2000, the poverty rate was 21 percent, and by December 2002 it had increased to 60 percent. In Gaza, poverty today is estimated at over 80 percent.
Due to terrible conditions, food consumption in the Occupied Territories has dropped by 25 percent, and half of the population currently lives off United Nations aid. Malnutrition among infants is 22 percent, the highest in the region, matched only in the Sahara Desert.
The Israeli Defense Army has generated losses in Palestinian infrastructure estimated at U.S.$1.7 billion in 2002 alone. And that number is likely to increase, given the U.S. alliance with Israel and its generous donation of arms and money. When former secretary of state Collin Powell announced his plan for "democracy in the Middle East" in late 2003, he promised $29 million to promote a democratic culture to the Arabs. Whereas at the start of 2004, the White House gave Israel $300 million in donations to "help combat terrorism."
In an interview with the Israeli daily Yediot Aharanot, Bush’s Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice once said, "I first visited Israel in 2000. I felt I was returning home, despite the fact that this was a place I have never visited. I have a deep affinity with Israel. I have always admired the history of the state of Israel and the hardness and determination of the people that founded it."
No remark could have a worse effect on the inhabitants of the Middle East. Rice wrote her doctoral dissertation on the Cold War era and the USSR, and although she has a prestigious background in academia, she sadly has not read her Middle East history correctly. To the Arab street she is trying to appeal to today, the "founders" that she admires in Israel are nothing but invaders who realized early on that in order to survive they must uproot, kill and terrorize the Arabs and Palestinians.
Joseph Weitz, head of the Jewish Agency's colonial department, said in 1940, "We shall not achieve our goal if the Arabs are in this small country. There is no other way [other] than to transfer the Arabs from here to neighboring countries - all of them! Not one village, not one tribe should be left."
In 1948, there were 475 villages in Palestine, 385 of which were bulldozed to the ground by Israel.
In 1938, the "founder" Ben Gurion told the World Council of Poale Zion, "The boundaries of Zionist aspirations include southern Lebanon, southern Syria, today's trans-Jordan, all of the West Bank and Sinai." Ten years later, as premier of Israel, he said, "Our aim is to smash Lebanon, trans-Jordan and Syria. We shall establish a Christian state [in Lebanon], and then we will smash the Arab Legion, eliminate trans-Jordan, then Syria will fall to us. We then bomb and move on and take Port Said, Alexandria and Sinai." (Taken from “Ben Gurion: A Biography,” written in 1986 by Michael Bar Zohar). These words have had more of an impact on Arabs, even those who are moderate and Westernized, than the democratic promises of Rice.
As an African-American who grew up inspired by the American Revolution against colonialism, and as someone who has read, if not memorized the Bill of Rights of the U.S. constitution, how can Rice admire a people uprooting, terrorizing and "smashing" another people?
This is a question asked all over the Middle East, shedding a lot of doubt on Rice's credibility when talking about democratizing the Arab World, and the support she has from her President. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are the trinity that holds the U.S. together and defines its democracy, yet it has not been applied by the U.S.—Bush’s America—when dealing with the Middle East.
To make things clear to readers: I am not opposed to peace with Israel nor am I anti-Semite. One of my closest friends during childhood and young adulthood had a Damascene Jewish mother. She was a remarkable lady. I am someone who sees no difference between Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, and Baha’is. All of them have the right to live in peace and security. When Arafat signed Oslo in 1993, I was one of those who strongly supported him. I still think it was the bravest decision he ever took in his life. Oslo was ruined not because of Arafat but because of the outbreak of the intifada on Sept. 28, 2000. The outbreak of violence started after Ariel Sharon's provocation in visiting the al-Aqsa Mosque. A circle of violence started after that, and all hell broke loose in the Middle East after Sept. 11, 2001. Give me a peace-wanting government in the United States and I will support Syrian-Israeli, or Palestinian-Israeli peace talks. One of my favorite quotes was made by Yitzhak Rabin in 1993, during the signing of Oslo. He said, "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; A time to kill, and a time to heal; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; A time to love, and a time to hate; A time for war, and a time for peace."
That was 15 years ago. These administrations, thanks to Bush, Olmert, and Rice, have spread nothing but destruction, setting Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine—and now possibly Iran—ablaze. That is their legacy. They have not surpassed “a time to hate, and a time for war.” They kept us at a “time to kill and a time to die” never bringing us a “time to heal, a time to laugh, a time to love, and a time for peace.”
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