Feature

Grading the President: A View From The Middle East

A U.S. president accused of lacking experience in world affairs and ascending to office through a Supreme Court decision could be expected to try to prove his credentials. Not entirely a bad thing, for there is nothing more energizing than the urge to demonstrate one’s qualities. Had it not been for the September 11 terrorist ...

A U.S. president accused of lacking experience in world affairs and ascending to office through a Supreme Court decision could be expected to try to prove his credentials. Not entirely a bad thing, for there is nothing more energizing than the urge to demonstrate one’s qualities. Had it not been for the September 11 terrorist attacks, George W. Bush might have had to labor long and hard to demonstrate his abilities. But the tragic events rallied Americans around him in the face of terrorism, marginalizing the debate about his qualifications and reinforcing his legitimacy.

A much different rallying effect took place in the Middle East, where Bush has become steadily more unpopular. It was not the nature of U.S. foreign policy that made the region less disposed to Bush’s personality. His father, former President George H.W. Bush, was well respected despite leading the war in 1991 to liberate Kuwait — a military campaign that most Arabs viewed as illegitimate. Former President Bill Clinton retained his appeal and charisma, even as he fired missiles at Iraq, Sudan, and Afghanistan. By contrast, the Arab world perceives Bush junior as racist, anti-Islamic, and biased in favor of Israel, both politically and religiously. This image may not correspond with reality, but it is inevitable when the leader of the world’s only superpower is unsophisticated, poorly informed, and possesses a provincial outlook.

I offer this critique as one of the few Middle Eastern supporters of Bush’s policies in the region. I fully agree with his call to reform the Palestinian National Authority as a key step toward reaching a settlement in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. I also support his goal of promoting freedom and democracy in the Middle East as a means of constricting religious extremism and terrorism. I vehemently support the right of the United States to undertake preemptive measures to safeguard its national security, and I viewed the war in Iraq as a legitimate political means to change the regime.

My support does not rule out all worries, however, as these policies are prone to failure; the war in Iraq, for example, was preceded by diplomatic missteps in the effort to guarantee European support. The initial phases of the military operation also suffered from confusion, sowing serious fears of political chaos in postwar Iraq.

Ironically, Bush’s lack of experience, his reliance on instinct instead of intellect, and his limited knowledge of world cultures are his greatest strengths. He puts U.S. interests above all else and does not seem compelled to make concessions or compromises. He is also capable of making bold decisions, such as waging war against Iraq without a specific international mandate. He is truthful and honest with himself and does not care what others may think — even when those others are the rest of the world.

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