The US president's global agenda

Bush is the best ally Israel ever had in Oval Office.

bush in israel graphic  (photo credit: )
bush in israel graphic
(photo credit: )
While US President George W. Bush's current visit to Israel and the Middle East is no doubt of historic consequence, for the people of Israel, it did not take his presence in Jerusalem to prove his overwhelming commitment to the welfare and security of the nation. Actions such as his decision to meet with the city's mayor, which stand above the typical protocol of visiting heads of state, remind us that Bush is in fact the best friend of Israel ever to occupy the Oval Office. Early on in his administration, he was widely accused of being ambivalent and hands-off in relating to the Arab-Israeli conflict, but his actions in this regard have proven both strategically sound and highly prudent. It is critical to remember that he entered office in the shadow of a Clinton presidency where the executive was very hands-on in promoting peace in the Middle East, yet whose best efforts never proved successful. Bush understood that creating a lasting peace required that the intensity and scope of American involvement in the process could only follow serious commitment by the parties themselves. This American president also knew that so long as Yasser Arafat was leading the Palestinian people, a true and lasting peace would remain unattainable. It is therefore no surprise that as he approaches the latter months of his presidency, Bush has chosen to come to the region to bolster Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas - both of whom are weak leaders requiring the backing of a committed US ally. Bush's presence here will also play an invaluable role in shoring up support within the Arab League for the understandings reached at Annapolis. He is hoping to stress to the Arab world that they have both a responsibility and a direct interest in helping to foster an effective political dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians. America is certainly expecting that Arab leaders, and particularly Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, will make good on their financial commitments to the PA, and allow economic aid to flow to the Palestinian people through Abbas. Bush will, therefore, also be encouraging these leaders to initiate meaningful gestures of cooperation with Olmert and Israel so the process can become that much more palpable to the Israeli people. Yet, while the direct involvement of an American president in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations will likely garner considerable attention, there are many other issues to be confronted in the coming days that are no less significant. A major focus will of course be placed on efforts to halt the expansion of the Iranian threat to the region and to global security. Bush's diplomatic goal in this arena will be to maximize Iran's isolation and in so doing limit the current Iranian regime's potential to wage war. With King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, he will no doubt discuss the future price of oil. If oil prices continue to rise, it will almost certainly further disturb an American economy already teetering on the brink of recession. Rising oil prices contribute to inflation and a weaker dollar. Although a weak dollar has some positive consequences for the US foreign trade deficit and helps American exporters, from most other perspectives the downward slide is viewed with grave concern. On the short-term domestic level, a weak dollar contributes heavily to inflation in the American marketplace. But more troubling are the long-term consequences of removing it as the global currency of choice, and in particular as the currency used for quoting those all-important oil prices. Recognizing the multifaceted nature of Bush's tour reminds us that he will be confronting issues of critical importance for the broader region and even for the entire globe. So as justifiably excited as the Israeli people might be to finally host this trusted friend and partner, we must realize that much more is on the line than what we might limit ourselves to acknowledging through the often-narrow perspective of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The writer is co-chairman of Nefesh B'Nefesh and a former ambassador to the United States.