Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Can the US change course?

By Patrick Seale

"The visit to Washington this week of Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will provide President George W. Bush with an opportunity to correct the catastrophic slide towards the abyss of America's policy in the Middle East.

But will Bush seize the chance? Can he, at this eleventh hour, summon up the intelligence, the will and the courage to change course? In spite of cataclysmic changes in the American political landscape, there is little ground for optimism.

But to correct American policy in the Middle East would require something like a political earthquake in both Washington and Israel - and there is no sign as yet of any such upheaval. The changes required are so radical as to seem both unrealistic and unrealisable. In both countries, hard-liners are still very much in charge.

In spite of this disastrous balance sheet, there is still no consensus in the US that the invasion and occupation were a colossal mistake which can only be corrected by a full withdrawal. Fanatical neocons, such as William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, are even urging the US to send in still more troops!

Friends of Israel would no doubt argue that the smashing of a major Arab state has improved Israel's strategic environment by removing any threat from the East. But the price paid by America has been very high indeed and will continue to be paid for many years unless the United States recovers the independence of its Middle East policy.

As a preliminary measure, Bush would have to force Olmert to lift his cruel siege of the Palestinians in Gaza and on the West Bank and halt all activities to extend colonies. Bush has had many opportunities to do so over the past five years, but has fudged them all. Is it at all probable that he will now have a change of heart?

But nothing of the sort is likely to happen. On the contrary, Olmert has moved closer to the hard right by bringing an Arab-hating racist, Avigdor Lieberman, into his cabinet. Traumatised by its failure to crush Hezbollah during the 33-day Lebanon war this summer, Israel's current mood is to expand its army and seek still more weaponry in anticipation of a "second round", rather than to respond to the many Arab calls for peace talks."

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