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Bush and Blair - the Betrayal
By Sidney 0aBlumenthal
Friday 14 November 2003
America's first loyalty was to Ariel Sharon, not the prime 0aminister
Tony Blair, about to welcome George Bush to London with pomp and 0acircumstance, has assumed the mantle of tutor to the unlearned 0apresident.
Bush originally came to Blair determined to go to war in Iraq, but 0awithout a strategy. Blair instructed him that the casus belli was Saddam 0aHussein's weapons of mass destruction, urged him to make the case before the UN, 0aand - when the effort to obtain a UN resolution failed - convinced him to revive 0athe Middle East peace process, which the president had abandoned. The road map 0afor peace was the principal concession Blair wrested from him.
The prime minister argued that renewing the negotiations was 0aessential to the long-term credibility of the coalition goals in Iraq and the 0awhole region. But within the Bush administration that initiative was 0asystematically undermined. Now Blair welcomes a president who has taught him a 0alesson in statecraft that he refuses to acknowledge.
Flynt Leverett, a former CIA analyst, revealed to me that the 0atext of the road map was ready to be made public before the end of 2002: "We had 0amade commitments to key European and Arab allies. The White House lost its 0anerve. It took Blair to get Bush to put it out." This man knows what he's 0atalking about. In addition to his CIA role, Leverett is a former senior director 0afor Middle East affairs at the national security council, an author of the road 0amap, and a fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings 0aInstitution. "We needed to work this issue hard," he says, "but because we 0adidn't want to make life difficult with Sharon, we undercut our credibility."
In the internal struggle over peace in the Middle East, the 0aneo-conservatives within the administration prevailed. Elliot Abrams, chief of 0aMiddle East affairs at the NSC, was their main man. During the Iran-contra 0ascandal, Abrams had helped set up a rogue foreign policy operation. His 0asoliciting of $10m from the Sultan of Brunei for the illegal enterprise turned 0afarcical when he juxtaposed numbers on a Swiss bank account and lost the money. 0aHe pleaded guilty to lying to Congress and then spent his purgatory as director 0aof a neo-conservative thinktank, denouncing the Oslo Accords and arguing that "tomorrow's lobby for Israel has got to be conservative Christians, because 0athere aren't going to be enough Jews to do it". Abrams was rehabilitated when 0aGeorge Bush appointed him to the NSC.
In his new position, Abrams set to work, trying to gut the text 0aof the road map. He was suspicious of the Europeans and British, considering 0athem to be anti-Israel, if not inherently anti-semitic. But working in league 0awith his allies in Cheney's office and at the defence department, Abrams failed 0ato prevent Blair from persuading Bush to issue the road map at last.
The key to the road map's success was US support for the 0aPalestinian prime minister, Abu Mazen, indispensable as a partner for peace, but 0aregarded as a threat by both Sharon and Arafat. At the June summit on the road 0amap, Bush told Abu Mazen: "God told me to strike at al-Qaida and I struck them; 0athen he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did; and now I am determined 0ato solve the problem in the Middle East. If you help me I will act."
Abu Mazen was scheduled to come to Washington to meet Bush a 0amonth later. For his political survival, he desperately required US pressure on 0athe Sharon government to make concessions on building settlements on the West 0aBank. Abu Mazen sent a secret emissary to the White House: Khalil Shikaki. I met 0aShikaki in Ramallah, where he gave his account of this urgent trip. He met 0aElliot Abrams and laid out what support was needed from Bush if Abu Mazen - and 0atherefore the road map - were to survive. Abrams told him, he says, that Bush "could not agree to anything" due to domestic political considerations: Bush's 0areliance on the religious right, his refusal to offend the American Israel 0aPublic Affairs Committee and the demands of the upcoming election. Shikaki 0apleaded that Abu Mazen presented "a window of opportunity" and could not go on 0awithout US help. "He has to show he's capable of doing it himself," Abrams 0aanswered dismissively.
Inside the NSC, those in favour of the road map - CIA analysts 0aFlynt Leverett and Ben Miller among others - were forced out. On September 6, 0aAbu Mazen resigned, and the road map collapsed.
Blair provided Bush with a reason for the war in Iraq, and led 0ahim to express his plan for peace for the Middle East, preventing Bush from 0aappearing a reckless and isolated leader. In return, the teacher's seminar on 0athe Middle East has been dropped.
Harold Macmillan remarked that after empire the British would act 0atowards the Americans as the Greeks to the Romans. Though the Greeks were often 0atutors to the Romans, Macmillan neglected to mention that the Greeks were 0aslaves.
Sidney Blumenthal was a senior adviser to President Clinton 0aand is the author of The Clinton Wars.
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