By Salama A Salama
The grandiose ceremonies held in Washington to mark Bush's inauguration into his second term betray the mindset of a leader who increasingly sees himself as being the recipient of some divinely inspired mission to save the world. The evangelical rhetoric with which he began his next four years in power differed little in substance from his pronouncements during the first four, during which the world witnessed the worst conflagrations since World War II. Only today the battleground has moved to the Arab and Islamic worlds and the conflict is not between the principles of freedom and justice and the oppression of totalitarianism but between arrogance and imperial ambition and the right to national self- determination.
Bush's second term began with mixed signals and conflicting messages. There is a feeling that Washington is seeking to mend fences with Europe after relations soured in the wake of Washington's unilateral decision to go to war against Iraq. Yet on the other hand, in a flagrant snub of Europe's mediation efforts over the Iranian nuclear issue, Bush declared the US would not hesitate to use military force against Iran, raising the spectre of another disastrous adventure along the lines of Iraq.
Vice-President Cheney had even more to say than his boss, hinting that Israel would spearhead any moves against Iran. Clearly, Israel is to be America's guard dog in the region during Bush's second term, which makes it almost certain that Syria will soon be in the crosswires. It also suggests that the quagmire into which American forces have sunk in Iraq has done nothing to dampen the president's enthusiasm for reshaping the Middle East. He still believes himself divinely charged with fighting terrorism and spreading freedom and democracy in the Arab and Islamic world. These tasks, he thinks, hold the key to ending the Arab- Israeli conflict. Yet until now the Bush administration has done nothing to suggest that it is keen to get a meaningful peace process rolling again.
The US is at odds with itself over how to handle the steadily deteriorating situation in Iraq. Its only hope is that the Iraqi elections will save the day. Bush certainly gave no indication that he would respond to international and Arab demands to commit himself to a timeframe for the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq. And it is all too likely he will use the growing chaos, the spectre of sectarian strife and the supposed threat of Iranian or Syrian intervention to perpetuate the occupation.
Apart from Rumsfeld and Rice Bush has surrounded himself with a new administrative team in the White House and they come with heavy neo-conservative baggage. Social security is slated for privatisation. There will be tax reforms in favour of big business. And there will be a clampdown on illegal immigration. That such issues remain controversial among American voters has led some observers to believe that domestic concerns will divert Bush's attention from problems abroad and reduce the chance of any policy overhaul vis-ˆ-vis the Middle East.
Bush has only two effective years in his second term. After that Congressional elections will be held and then the Democrats and Republicans will begin to prepare for the next presidential elections. Bush himself will become a lame duck president. Any hopes we might have entertained regarding Iraq or Palestine, or freedom and democracy if we are to believe Bush's pledges, will then vanish in thin air. Better, then, not to invest much in hope in order to avoid the inevitable disappointment.
It is, in any case, only a matter of days until we see what elections bring in Iraq and what success Abu Mazen has in restoring calm in Palestine, a task for which he has yet to receive a word of thanks from Israel or the US.