Easy Targets

Odd convergence when the news wires carry stories of President Bush and Osama bin Laden both chastising Arab leaders on the same day. Here’s Bush:

After basking in a showy celebration of America’s close ties with Israel, President Bush criticized other Middle East leaders on Sunday, prodding them to expand their economies, offer equal opportunity to women and embrace democracy if they want peace to become reality.

Here’s bin Laden:

Osama bin Laden released a new message on Sunday denouncing Arab leaders for sacrificing the Palestinians and saying the head of the Shiite militant group Hezbollah did not really have the strength to take on Israel.

What’s striking, besides the accuracy of both criticisms (“exploiting the Palestinians” would be closer to the truth), is the hostility they’re bound to meet from the Arab leaders in question, suggesting that the only thing we’ve got going for us in terms of our Middle East policy these days is the lack of serious competition.

President Bush went on to declare that peace in the Middle East was possible by the end of the year, but that it requires “tough sacrifices.” For a more serious analysis of the situation, I recommend Jon Alterman’s WPR piece on Bush’s failed Middle East policy, but make sure to put on your welding goggles, because the thing’s got sparks shooting off of it. Among the list of faulty assumptions Alterman identifies as having contributed to the failure, this one has probably gotten the least attention:

. . .[T]he conviction that among the most powerful tools that the U.S. government could use against its foes was withholding recognition and refusing dialogue. It is hard to find a single instance in which such boycotts were effective.

In a region where American support is a double-edged sword, that one should have been predictable. But accepting reality is apparently not among the “tough sacrifices” President Bush is willing to make.

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