Tuesday, March 14, 2006
What Bush needs to do to come back
There's no sense in the White House living in denial any more. President Bush has been seriously damaged politically, and frankly he deserves it, in my opinion.
That being said, the last thing I want to see is damaged leadership during war time.
The failed Dubai Ports deal was a watershed event in the Bush Presidency, and emphasized what a lot of Americans who initially supported the president have felt for a very long time, even if they haven't articulated it; that he is simply too close to the Saudis and other Sunni Arab autocracies to conduct what he refers to as the `War on Terror' in the way it needs to be waged. The Ports deal was the straw that broke the camel's back.
Another aspect of this, of course is the political failure of the administration to prepare the ground properly by briefing congressional leaders before attempting to push this through the system. If in fact a strategic quid pro quo was involved with the Saudis and/or the UAE and the president was able to sufficiently justify it, things might have been different.
To be fair, President Bush from the day he was elected has faced unreasonable hostility from his partisan political opponents. And he has had to face challenges no one anticipated and that were not of his making. Nevertheless, he has consistently seemed to take only half measures in addressing those challenges, and been less than adequate in one of the main tasks of leadership..to make policy and sell that policy to the electorate.
If I had the opportunity to sit down with President Bush for a few minutes of conversation, here's what I'd tell him:
The biggest plus you have, Mr. President, is your image with the average American as a regular guy, and not one of the elites. People perceived this as an inside deal that was cooked up for the benefit of your Arab pals at the expense of America's security. And I don't think many people bought the line that you were unaware of it until it was a done deal.
Neither did they agree with you that the UAE is a loyal ally against Islamic terrorism. Or our `eternal friends' the Saudis, for that matter. Most Americans get a foul taste in their mouths every time you utter that turgid little phrase. The Saudis and the other Sunni autocracies might be useful at keeping the oil taps turned on at record high prices, or reassuring allies like India that the oil flow will continue no matter what happens with Iran, but friends? Uh uh.
Let's not confuse a relationship of convenience with friendship, Mr. President. Real alliances come out of shared values, not convenience.
This is an ideological war as much as anything else, and you owe the American people some candor in that regard.
The Saudis have been exporting hardline Wahabi-style Islam with its jihadist rhetoric to the US for years through the co-opting of America's mosques, madrassahs and mideast studies departments in our universities, and do it to this day. The roster of ex-US legislators and diplomats on the Arab payroll as lobbyists is astounding and pervasive. And virtually every radical Islamic group in the USA receives funding from these people.
So for a start, Mr. Bush, that sorry state of affairs needs tending. Most Americans are not aware of the fact that you sent both Condi Rice and your personal envoy Karen Hughes to Saudi Arabia to ask them to curtail the export of radical Islam into America, and that the Saudis politely told them to go pound sand. But you're aware of it, and need to take steps to stop it here at home. And if that means legal restrictions on foreign gifts to presidential libraries and speaking fees, or on ex-legislators and government employees acting as lobbyists for foreign governments, so be it.
If it means legislation forbidding foreign funding of religious institutions in America and a hard line on radical mosques, imams and madrassahs, then that's what needs to happen, if you want to start convincing Americans that we really are in a war and that you personally are not corrupted by your cozy relationship with certain Arab countries.
And I would urge you to reach out to American Muslims, urge them to take sides in this war and to give them a platform to fight the takeover of their religious institutions by radical Islam. Many of them came here to flee exactly the kind of Islamist tyranny represented by your Saudi friends. So far, the only American Muslims you've given the time of day to have been Islamists like CAIR.
You also need to stop accomodating these Arab regimes by backdoor funding of Arab terrorists that target Israel and stop winking at their breaking of US law by funding terrorist groups like Hamas and boycotting Israel. You may think you can curry favor with your pal Abdullah of Saudi Arabia by funneling cash through the World Bank instead of US Aid, but it doesn't fool anybody that's paying attention, it isn't helping the war effort and makes you look like a hypocrite. Believe it or not, Dubbyah, Israel is kind of popular with Evangelical Christians as well as a lot of other Americans who voted for you. And they didn't appreciate you shilling for the UAE once the UAE's involvement in things like this came out. You once said something about us opposing countries that harbor and finance terrorism. I respectfully suggest you revisit the Bush Doctrine and begin practicing it. It would restore a lot of lost credibility.
Towards that end, you might want to do more than just talk about our dependence on Arab oil. Level with your fellow Americans, put the country on a war footing if you have to, and rev up America's domestic energy creation. Give your fellow Americans credit for being willing to endure a few sacrifices for victory. They might just surprise you. In any event, it needs to happen regardless.
I would also advise you to figure out what you're planning on doing about Iran, if you haven't already. Iran was not problem of your making, but it popped its ugly head out two years ago, during your watch, and thus far the only action you seem to have taken has been to let the EU3 muddle around in useless negotiations and to push for the referral of Iran to the UN for sanctions that would be meaningless even if you managed to get past a Russian veto. This is not the kind of problem that can be deferred to the next administration without a major risk to America's security.
This is the sort of leadership the American people re-elected you for, Mr. President. And I sincerely think you have it in you to deliver.
Step up to the plate, Mr. President. The comeback starts today. And I'm rooting for you.