Ehud Olmert and George Bush gave a press conference (transcript) today after their talks about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Iran’s nuclear program. It perfectly reflected the obtuseness of both as they face (or rather, refuse to face) political realities both in their own countries and on the international stage.
It seems that no one has bothered to tell Olmert that Bush is a president with waning power and that the Democrats are ascendant. Olmert exhibited the worst case of sycophantic sucking up to Bush I’ve seen in a long time. First, he called him “Your Excellency.” Who the hell calls an American president, “Your Excellency?” Does he think he’s in France or England? Wikipedia notes that such an honorific is frowned upon within an American context. Somebody might want to tell His Excellency the prime minister.
Olmert also riled up Democrats by extolling Bush’s Iraq misadventure as if it was God’s gift to the Mideast and the world:
We in the Middle East have followed the American policy in Iraq for a long time, and we are very much impressed and encouraged by the stability which the great operation of America in Iraq brought to the Middle East. We pray and hope that this policy will be fully successful so that this stability which was created for all the moderate countries in the Middle East will continue.
Didn’t anyone tell him the news? That Iraq is an unmitigated disaster and cost Bush control of both Houses of Congress? I guess we shouldn’t be surprised because this is the same Israeli politician who continues to maintain that Israel won the war in Lebanon despite all evidence to the contrary.
Poor Ehud didn’t make any friends in the newly emergent Democratic Party with his fulsome praise of one of the Bush Administration’s most unpopular policies:
Politicians from the Democratic Party said they wanted to speak to Olmert about his comments on the Iraq war before responding publicly, but said they were uncomfortable with the comments. If Olmert planned his remarks and intended them to come out as they did, a Democratic official said, then they are not acceptable and can be seen as an attempt to influence the American political dispute.
Concerning Iran, when a prime minister says the following after his deputy defense minister has just called for a military attack on that nation, I shudder at the prospect:
The fanaticism and the extremism of the Iranian government, and the fact that the leader of a nation such as Iran can threaten the very existence of another nation, as he does towards the state of Israel, is not something that we can tolerate or would ever tolerate, and certainly not when we know that he is trying to possess nuclear weapons.
I’m very encouraged by our discussion and thoughts that we have exchanged about what needs to be done in the Middle East.
If Olmert’s “encouraged” then I’m petrified. Can there be any doubt that a military attack by either us or the Israelis is in the offing.
Bush also spoke about Syria in that typical obtuse way of his:
My policy towards Syria is this: that we expect the Syrians to be, one, out of Lebanon so that the Lebanese democracy can exist; two, not harboring extremists that create — that empower these radicals to stop the advance of democracies; three, to help this young democracy in Iraq succeed. And the Syrian President knows my position. We have told that to him through my administration. We do have an embassy there in Syria. But our position is very clear, and we would like to see some progress toward peace from the Syrians.
Perhaps someone gave Bush a 12 month old script for this press conference, one written while Syria still had thousands of troops in Lebanon. Otherwise, how do you explain Bush’s saying he “expects the Syrians to out of Lebanon?” Who or what is he talking about? Which Syrians are in Lebanon? Or does he mean that he expects Syria to stop exerting influence through proxies like Hezbollah? If so, he can whistle that tune as long as he wants and still not get a response.
I just heard former U.S. Ambassador Edward Wilcox today on To The Point and he made an excellent critique of U.S. Israeli Mideast policy. He said that in diplomacy it is customary in negotiations for there to be NO pre-conditions. After all, the purpose of the negotiations themselves are to determine what the conditions of agreement are. By insisting on pre-conditions you’re attempting to narrow the parameters of discussion in your own favor. Why should any opponent agree to such transparently self-serving practice? In reality, we all know that the real purpose of these pre-conditions is to make such negotiations impossible to begin with. If you don’t want to negotiate with your opponent, the best way to avoid it is to make demands you know the other side cannot or will not meet. And that’s precisely what the U.S. has done regarding Syria and the U.S. and Israel have done regarding the Palestinian government.
All of this raises the question of what role Robert Gates and James Baker can take in reshaping U.S. Mideast policy. Both are pronounced advocates of reengaging with Syria and even Iran. What is the purpose of all this stale Bush-Cheney rejectionist rhetoric if Baker and Gates are going to be taking a hedge trimmer to U.S. foreign policy? It seems to me that there is a serious internal bloodletting to come within the Administration. Either Baker and Gates (would Rice be their ally or not?) will take the reins and bring the Cheney cabal to heel. Or Cheney will fight like the sewer fighter he is to the death to retain his prerogatives. Either way, there ought to be some fireworks in the offing.
Ehud Olmert, if this is even possible, sounded even more deluded than Bush about Syria:
I share the same opinion with President Bush. We are not against negotiations with Syria. We would love to be able to have negotiations with Syria, but that must be based on a certain reasonable, responsible policy, which is not preformed by Syria for the time being. Everything that they are doing is to the other direction — in Lebanon, in Iraq, and the sponsorship of Hamas and Khalid Mashal as the main perpetrators of terror against the state of Israel. With some changes in the Russian — I’m sorry, in the Syrian attitude on these major issues, I hope that one day the conditions for contacts between them and us will be created. But to be honest, I don’t think at the present time they manifest any such attitude. And that makes it impossible.
Um, you’re not against negotiations with Syria?” Really, then why is it that you refuse to negotiate with them? And as for the smoke about negotiations having to be based on “a certain reasonable, responsible policy preformed [sic] by Syria…” does this rhetoric remind you of some other equally empty talk during the Lebanon war? Remember Bush, Rice and Olmert saying they’d love to stop the fighting, but only after there is a guarantee that a ceasefire would actually hold permanently and bring Israel all the security it has lacked on its northern border? It was bullshit once and it’s still bullshit. They want Syria to abandon Hezbollah, Iran and Hamas BEFORE they’re willing to begin negotiations! What are they smokin’? I fully expect a negotiation and Israeli-Syrian peace treaty would END with this result. But begin with it? Dream on, Macduff.
And on a related subject, I highly recommend tonight’s Radio Open Source program, A New Israeli – Palestinian Mandate? featuring Steve Clemons, Daniel Levy (who was terrific), Shlomon Ben-Ami, and Steve Van Evera. First rate discussion of the major issues. One of the show’s producers, Rebecca Miller, e mailed me today and asked me to listen and comment at their blog, both of which I did.