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.
As the removals work in the White House, the conduct of George W Bush in the last few days of his presidency shows that there is no change in him after eight years. He remains a hostage of his demons. His radio address is going to be remembered alongside television pictures of mutilated bodies of Palestinian children, beamed all over the world. The Bush presidency ends just as it began in 2001 – with war.
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.
Writing in the Huffington Post (Understanding the Gaza Catastrophe, January 3, 2009), the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories, Richard Falk, gives a detailed account of how the Hamas leadership ‘offered to extend the truce, even proposing a ten-year period’. He writes, “Israel ignored these diplomatic initiatives and failed to carry out its side of the ceasefire agreement that involved some easing of the blockade that had been restricting the entry to Gaza of food, medicine and fuel to a trickle.”
The cynical manipulation of fears and insecurities of others to punish peoples not liked in the White House has been the trademark of the Bush administration. His latest act is calculated to overthrow, or greatly weaken, Hamas in Gaza and, at the same time, to try to lock the path of the incoming administration of Barak Obama for the foreseeable future. Israel may finish its ‘military job’ in Gaza in the next few weeks or months. Many more will die of bullets, lack of treatment, hunger and malnutrition. The rest will have to endure conditions worse than before. The sense of humiliation and betrayal will sink in deeper among Palestinians. The prospect of any meaningful diplomatic engagement with Hamas will have been set back. And America’s image abroad takes another battering.
All of which would not matter to George W Bush, for his green light to the Israelis to invade Gaza shows he has no remorse. An instinctive demolisher, he inspected the vast wreckage around him at the end of his presidency and decided to go with a bang – this time in Gaza – making President-elect Obama’s task even more difficult.
DEEPAK TRIPATHI, former BBC correspondent and editor, is a researcher and an author with reference to South and West Asia and US policy. His works can be found on his website and he can be reached at: DandATripathi@gmail.com.