George W. Bush: Statesman or Dog Trainer?

President Bush, April 4: "Enough is enough."

President Bush, April 6: "Withdraw without delay."

President Bush, April 8: "I meant what I said."

You have to give President Bush credit. Whereas politicians are known for saying whatever it takes to win over a crowd or sway a voter, Bush's vernacular is consistently simple, even when he's on the international stage addressing something as complex and awful as the current Israeli/Palestinian nightmare. That he has nothing of substance to say is beside the point. To his credit, he uses language and tone that most of us can relate to.

Unfortunately, it's the language and tone people use when talking to their dogs.

Dogs only understand a few, oft repeated words and phrases, such as "sit," "fetch" and, for particularly bright canines, "I meant what I said."

Dog-haters in the Middle East and Bush-haters in Europe may take Bush's approach the same way one takes condescension from an autistic cousin. It's cute, a little disturbing, but mostly laughable. But the fact that Bush has addressed the issue at all -- delivered in his patented cadence of disdain, which is usually reserved for members of the press who have the nerve to ask questions that require thoughtful answers -- actually indicates how seriously he takes the situation.

Bush is trying to scold and shame the combatants. If he were able, he would probably punish them by leaving them out in the cold while the rest of us eat dinner inside. The meal finished, he'd invite them back in, look for contrition in their eyes, and then -- maybe -- let them lie on the couch, lesson learned.

If only being leader of the free world in a time of international crisis were that simple.

The problems in Israel demand a president that can articulate, to both sides, sympathy rooted in comprehension of the situation. Instead, the president is acting as if the dogs' incessant barking has awakened him from a nap.

For the first year of his tenure, Bush was satisfied to stay on the sidelines of the peace process while deriding his predecessor for having gotten involved at all. Then on September 11, he was forced to acknowledge that domestic security relies on global security. So he demanded that the world help us hunt down terrorists. But when the Mideast section of the globe requested that we help secure peace in the region, they were given little more than a contemptuous pat on the head.

The recent events have prompted a change in policy, though not in heart.

Both Press Secretary Ari Fleischer and Bush himself have recently suggested that the failings of the Clinton administration led to the current spate of violence in Israel. Both then "clarified" their statements, sorta kinda saying they didn't mean it. Few people other than the rabid Clinton-haters buy it, since it's like blaming the steaming pile of shit in the living room on the previous owner's Labrador.

But what really seems to bother Bush is that he had wanted to use the public confidence gained from the success in Afghanistan to remove Saddam Hussein, but cannot while the world is focused elsewhere. Now Saddam is humping Bush's leg by stopping oil production for a month. And with the current situation in Israel, Arab and Muslim countries are now even less likely to publicly support any US action against the Iraqi regime.

Unfortunately for Bush, the Middle East is composed of and led by people, not dogs. Understanding and responding to their problems requires a little more than a yank on a leash and a command.

As the carnage piles up, maybe Bush will eventually feel obliged to scamper onto Air Force One, fly to Israel, grab Sharon and Arafat by their fat, scruffy necks and rub their snouts in the rubble of Ramallah and Bethlehem.

But until that happens, we'll just hear more irritable but impotent remarks from a president who expects warm and fuzzy obedience in a complicated world full of self-interest, greed and religion.

David Turnley ( is a frequent contributor to AlterNet.

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