US Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barak Obama's trip to the Middle East has been a boon for his campaign's photo archive. The past week has seen the presumptive Democratic nominee feted by the leaders of Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Obama's foreign policy pronouncements have been a source of concern in the region, particularly in Iraq and in Israel. As The Washington Post noted Wednesday, Obama's announced timeline calling for the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq within 16 months is opposed by the US commander in the country, Gen. David Petreaus, as well as by Sunni tribal leaders. Moreover, although Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki seemed to support Obama's withdrawal timeline when he told Der Spiegel Saturday that he supports a withdrawal of US forces from Iraq by 2010, he later backtracked on that statement, telling Obama that the date needs to be flexible and based on conditions on the ground.
While visiting Israel, Obama said that he is willing to use military force to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. But he undercut his own message by continuing to insist that he favors direct US negotiations with Iran.
As for the Palestinian conflict with Israel, Obama says that he views the peace plan laid out by former president Bill Clinton as a reasonable "starting point" for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. The Clinton plan calls for an Israeli withdrawal from some 95 percent of Judea and Samaria, and the division of Jerusalem, with Palestinian sovereignty over the Temple Mount.
If that is the "starting point" for negotiations, it is worth considering what the "endpoint" would be.
Then, too, as Israel's withdrawals from Gaza and Lebanon demonstrated, all areas transferred to the control of terror forces become active bases for terror and jihad. Given the jihadist state of Palestinian society, how can Obama think that the reenactment of that same failed policy in Jerusalem and the outskirts of Tel Aviv will bring different results than it has in Gaza and Lebanon?
Obama presents his foreign policy plans as a way to "fix the damage" that he claims has been caused by the Bush administration's foreign policy mistakes. But the plain truth is that there is little difference between the policies he espouses and those of the Bush administration.
Indeed, any residual disparities between the Bush administration's policies and those Obama recommends were erased over the past month. As Obama works to project the image of a centrist pragmatist in foreign affairs ahead of the US general election, over the past few weeks President George W. Bush has moved sharply to the left, feverishly implementing all of Obama's most radical preferred policies.
On Wednesday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held a meeting with her North Korean counterpart, Ro Tong Il, in Singapore. The meeting followed North Korea's recent submission of an 18,000 page "declaration" of its nuclear activities.
North Korea was supposed to submit that document 16 months ago. As if tipping their hat to their own brazen mendacity, the North Korean report was printed on paper contaminated with enriched uranium that the North Koreans claim they do not possess.
Yet in spite of its lateness and its obvious mendacity, the Bush administration wasted no time announcing that Pyongyang's radioactive declaration was the major breakthrough Washington had been waiting for.
Immediately upon receiving the North Korean declaration, and while refusing to release its contents to the public, Bush announced that he is removing North Korea from the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism. As far as Bush is concerned, Pyongyang - which has been actively involved in Iran's nuclear program and built a clone of its Yongbyon nuclear reactor in Syria - is no longer a US enemy.
As former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton wrote in The Wall Street Journal, "the administration has accepted a North Korean 'declaration' about its nuclear program that is narrowly limited, incomplete, and almost certainly dishonest in material respects."
For his part, Obama applauded Bush's about-face on North Korea. In his view, the only thing wrong with Bush's policy is that Bush hasn't yet met face-to-face with North Korean dictator Kim Jung Il.
BUSH'S DECISION to abandon even the pretense of seriousness in his handling of North Korea's nuclear program and its proliferation activities in exchange for a few photo opportunities is just one capitulation among many. Over the past week, it has been matched by a near-identical capitulation on Iran's nuclear weapons program - a capitulation backed up by a US nod to Teheran's quest for hegemony over Iraq.
Last Saturday, Bush broke his last remaining red line for dealing with Iran's nuclear weapons program by dispatching his No. 3 diplomat, Undersecretary of State William Burns, to Geneva to meet with Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili in spite of the fact that Iran refuses to suspend its uranium enrichment.
From media reports of Burns' encounter with Jalili, it is fairly clear that Iran used the opportunity presented by American knee buckling to humiliate Uncle Sam for its gesture of good faith. Jalili presented Burns and his colleagues with an Iranian "none-paper."
A "none-paper" is a misspelled "non-paper" or a nonbinding position paper. Apparently, the misspelled title was just a prelude to the syntactically and grammatically incoherent Iranian essay whose content essentially boiled down to a long-winded Iranian call for the US to shove it.
Rice reacted to Iran's display of contempt with angry words this week. Rice said that Iran's paper was "not serious" and that if Teheran doesn't accept the US-European "carrots," within two weeks, the US will move to impose stronger sanctions on Iran for its nuclear weapons program.
It is far from clear though that stronger sanctions are even a remote possibility. Moscow apparently interpreted Bush's decision to dispatch Burns to kowtow to Jalili as a sign of American weakness. In the wake of Saturday's embarrassing exchange, senior Israeli defense sources told Reuters that Russia is planning to begin shipping its advanced S-300 anti-aircraft systems to Iran in September. The S-300 batteries can track 100 targets simultaneously and fire on planes 120 km. away. Once they are operational, it will be far more difficult for Israel or another military force to attack Iran's scattered, hardened nuclear installations from the air. It is hard to imagine Russia would go through with the controversial deal if Moscow believed that the US would do anything to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
The day before Jalili embarrassed Burns, Bush made a move that calls into question the viability of his most hard-won foreign policy accomplishment - the independence of post-Saddam Iraq. Until last Friday, Bush had been clear that US combat forces will remain in Iraq for as long as necessary to prevent Iran from taking control of Iraq and to protect the oil-rich Gulf state from jihadists who share Iran's plan to transform Iraq into the next Lebanon.
Then last Friday, Bush signaled that perhaps staying the course is no longer his preferred policy. In a joint statement with Maliki, Bush announced that the two leaders have set a "time horizon" for transferring security responsibility over the country to the Iraqi government. While Bush and his surrogates have been quick to make a distinction between his "time horizon" and Obama's "timeline" for withdrawal, it is undeniable that by introducing a "time horizon" for withdrawal he has made it more difficult to argue against Obama's planned withdrawal "timeline."
Obviously US forces shouldn't remain in Iraq longer than necessary. But to ensure Iraq's continued independence and viability as a terror-fighting, pro-Western state, US forces will have to stay there for a considerable period. If the US commits to a "timeline" or "horizon" for leaving Iraq, it will induce Iraqis to begin cutting deals with Iran. This is the lesson of Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon.
IN THE months leading up to the IDF's withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000, more and more soldiers and officers from the IDF-allied South Lebanese Army began defecting to Hizbullah. They saw the writing on the walls. They knew they would be no match for Iran's foreign legion in Lebanon without IDF support. And so they did what they needed to do to stay alive.
And if the US goes ahead with its withdrawal, it will find itself presented in the future with the same unenviable options that Israel faces with today's Hizbullah-dominated Lebanon.
It will either have to turn its back on Iraq - and on the memory of the 4,100 US servicemen and women who have given their lives in the Iraqi campaign - and allow Iran to take over, or it will have to reinvade the country - at much higher cost in blood and treasure than maintaining the current force in place. And like Israel's 2006 war with Hizbullah, a renewed US invasion will be carried out with far less leadership commitment and national resolve than is necessary to see that next round of war through to victory.
Then there is Bush's recent mania for the swift establishment of a Palestinian state despite the obvious fact that such a state would be a jihadist-run, Iranian-allied terror state. Here, too, there is no light between Bush's policies and Obama's policies. Like Bush, Obama is perfectly capable of visiting bombed-out Sderot and failing to notice that Sderot's fate is the consequence of Israel's withdrawal from Gaza. While loudly proclaiming his commitment to Israel's security, Obama calls for an Israeli withdrawal from Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem, and due sensitivity to the "plight" of the Palestinians who democratically elected Hamas to govern them.
This of course, is no different from Rice's repeated calls for Israel to curtail its counter-terror operations in Judea and Samaria and to allow Hamas to remain in power in Gaza in the interests of "strengthening" Hamas-allied, terror supporting PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
When Bush entered office in 2001, he was faced with a raging Palestinian terror war against Israel. That war was the direct consequence of his immediate predecessor's decision in his waning days in power to throw caution to the wind in a vain attempt to leave a diplomatic legacy of peace treaties that would perhaps earn him a Nobel peace prize.
In fairness to Bill Clinton though, his intellectual collapse, which occurred on only one front, was nowhere near as radical or as strategically dangerous as Bush's abandonment of prudence on all fronts. Moreover, unlike Bush's behavior, which contravenes any possible political logic, Clinton's actions were more or less aligned with the interests of his party. In contrast, Bush is personally legitimizing all of Obama's radical foreign policies and doing so to the direct detriment of Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain's campaign.
Bolton wrote that Bush's policies have brought about "the early start of the Obama administration." Just imagine where we will be in the second, third and fourth year of the Obama era.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.