Bush's Final Act: A Bloody War in Gaza
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George W. Bush was not going to leave the White House quietly. After eight days of relentless Israeli bombing of Gaza, he waved the green flag to Israel to invade the Gaza Strip. In his weekly radio address, Bush held Hamas responsible for the latest violence. And he proclaimed that "no peace deal would be acceptable without tougher action to prevent Hamas and other groups from receiving weapons". Hours later on January 3, Israeli tanks were rolling into the Gaza Strip.
A lot has happened in the intervening years. But the overpowering impression he leaves behind is that of a president who put political opportunism to most destructive use, wherever and however he could, to satisfy his own capriciousness and prejudices. With few exceptions, those in Congress in Washington and in other Western capitals simply caved in, because they did not want to be on the 'wrong' side. The cost of this failure has been horrendous. As Bush prepares for quieter pastures in Texas, he leaves much of the Middle East and South Asia burning.
Bush and his vice-president, Dick Cheney, have used every significant player that came in their path. From Tony Blair of Britain and General Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan through the Arab and East European countries where abducted detainees were taken to be tortured to Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, and Israel's leading politicians -- the list is long. As the end came near, the Bush-Cheney administration seized the opportunity offered by circumstances in and around Gaza.
A bitter dispute loomed in advance of January 8, when Abbas would complete his normal four-year term as Palestinian Authority president, having been elected in 2005. Hamas, the majority party in the Legislative Council, insisted that Abbas submit his resignation to the speaker and the process begin to hold a new presidential election. But Abbas was determined to hold on to power. His Fatah group argued that a law subsequently passed allowed him to remain in the post until the next council elections in 2010.
As February elections approached in Israel, the Defense Minister and Labor Party leader, Ehud Barak, and the Foreign Minister and leader of the Kadima Party, Tzipi Livni, were in competition within the cabinet. The hard-line Likud leader, Binyamin Netanyahu, goaded them from without. The leaders of Egypt and Jordan felt threatened by the emergence of Hamas and growing Iranian influence in the region. All this provided the ideal ground for Bush and Cheney to create a crisis and unleash the proxies on Gaza to reshape the territory. After Afghanistan and Iraq, it was the turn of Gaza to be subjected to 'shock and awe'. The command center for the operation is the White House. The proxies are in the region. The more insecure the proxies feel, the easier it is to play on their fears.
The events in Gaza bear echoes of the Sabra and Chatila massacres in Lebanon in September 1982. Then, Israel let loose its proxies, the Christian Phalange militiamen, on the two refugee camps. Hundreds of Palestinians, men women and children, were killed and thousands injured. Today, Israeli bullets and bombs also kill women and children in Gaza. And the responsibility lies not in Tel Aviv, but in the White House. Despite all the talk of Hamas intransigence and its refusal to cease rocket attacks in Israel's border areas, truth does emerge from time to time.