Pity our poor President. Entering the last year of his administration, the search for his successor was in full swing, and the candidates of his own party were trying to act like he didn't exist. Even Karl Rove, his erstwhile alter ego who once saw him in a flight jacket and considered him the coolest of the cool, gave speeches that didn't even mention his name.
But George Bush was never one to be dissed, and he's not about to be now. He had to prove he was still relevant, and what better way than a trip to the Middle East -- solve centuries-old conflicts, unite a coalition of nations to confront an evil regime, in a region where he had a proven track record and had earned the respect of all.
His first stop was Israel, where he and prime minister Ehud Olmert have a lot in common -- both authors of disastrous war policies, both despised by their own people, both nightmares that seemingly won't go away. Naturally, they praised each other to the skies -- none of their citizens will -- and said that this time, they're really going to make peace with those Palestinians. They really, really mean it.
So of course, no sooner had Bush left than Israel carried out the deadliest air strikes yet on the 1.5 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, and turned already severe economic sanctions into a total blockade, including the most basic necessities of life. The Palestinians responded by blowing a hole in the Israeli-built wall cutting off Gaza from Egypt in what can only be described as the biggest prison break in the history of man. Who says they hate freedom?
So far so good.
Then it was on to Saudi Arabia, where he has old family friends. The Saudis treated him to a photo-op even more ridiculous than the Israelis -- Bush holding some medieval sword on his shoulder with one hand and holding hands with the Saudi dictator with the other, all the while swaying to some music and grinning like an idiot. Then they had a conversation that went something like this:
Bush: Our economy is kind of struggling right now. It sure would help if you would lower the price of oil.
King Abdullah: Well, maybe. We'll think about it. But in the meantime, I hear you have some banks in trouble. How about we buy them?
But the real reason for Bush's stops in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and other Gulf states was to build a united front to isolate Iran. The US intelligence community recently announced that, contrary to what the Bush administration had been saying for months, Iran does not in fact have a nuclear weapons program. This put the White House foreign policy team in a temporary state of crisis. Bush seemed, well, irrelevant, and peace was threatening to break out.
But the Prez had a comeback. If Iran doesn't already have a nuclear weapons program, that means they could still start one, and thus they're a bigger threat than ever. This was the pitch he was prepared to make to our Arab allies.
Hospitality toward guests is one of the more attractive parts of Arab culture, so of course they treated Bush courteously. But even as the Saudi royals were presenting Bush with the gift of a sharp object -- draw your own conclusions -- the Arab News, a leading newspaper of their not-so-free press, expressed the real feelings in the kingdom in an editorial: "This is not diplomacy in search of peace. It is madness in search of war."
Kuwait, meanwhile, responded to the President's initiative by dispatching their foreign minister to go do business with the Iranians as soon as Bush was out of the country. A Saudi businessman and democracy activist summed it up for the LA Times: "Following Bush is a kiss of death."
Tell me about it.
Oblivious to his own humiliation, Bush came home feeling more relevant than ever and immediately began reaping the fruits of his misguided and cruel economic policies. Now he had to confront a looming financial meltdown he had long been assuring us was nowhere on the horizon. Wouldn't want a new Great Depression to obscure the legacy he had worked so hard to achieve in Iraq. Apres moi, le deluge? Didn't quite work.
I'm no economist, but I knew how dire the situation must really be when he pitched his $145 billion stimulus package without even a whimper about making his beloved tax cuts for multi-millionaires permanent. Supply-side economics, meet Reality. Reality, Supply-side economics.
No, his proposal is to borrow an additional $145 billion from the Chinese, Japanese, and Arabs, to be given to taxpayers in the form of rebates, who will then spend it mostly on junk from China by those who really need the money, on cars and electronics from Japan by those who don't, and on Arabian oil by just about everybody. Sounds like a plan -- to a heroin junkie, anyway.