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Obama should not follow Bush's lead in Middle EastSkip to next paragraph
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Regarding the March 4 Opinion piece, "Build on Bush's Middle East progress": Author Robert Zelnick suggests that President Obama should build on his predecessor's Middle East policies. But did President Bush really make any progress?
Mr. Bush was determined to ignore the problems that consumed his predecessor, Bill Clinton, and so he did nothing about peace in the Middle East for the first seven years of his presidency. However, he did climb into Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's pocket and branded Yasser Arafat as "tainted by terror." That did not open "the way for the more moderate Mahmoud Abbas to play the lead negotiating role," as Mr. Zelnick states. Mr. Arafat's death in 2004 did.
Bush also held a peace conference in Annapolis in late 2007. But it was a one-day conference with only a couple dozen nations in attendance at which Bush gave a speech and departed before the day was done. Elliott Abrams, the Middle East expert on Bush's National Security Council, said in a recent interview that it never had any chance of success and he does not know why Bush bothered. He bothered because, with one year to go in his administration, he had an eye on his place in history and did not want to be identified as a president who for two full terms did nothing about the problems in the Middle East.
If there is anything to be learned from Bush's Middle East policy, it is two things: First, the problem can't be ignored. Second, every American president except Bush believed the United States should guarantee Israel's security and at the same time be an honest broker in an effort to move both parties closer toward a lasting peace. Bush thought giving carte blanche to Mr. Sharon was all he had to do and he had no interest at all in playing the second role.
Thus far, at least, it seems the Obama administration has absorbed both lessons.