Was she performing her ablutions for the last round of cluster bombs the military dumped on the townspeople of al-Qaim? Or did she think she could patch up the differences with the folks whose country was blithely given away by her husband last April in his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon? Either way, she looked quite foolish bobbing through the sea of security goons to make her grand entrance.
“What we want to see is results on the ground,” one Palestinian vendor said. “President Bush promised to resolve the conflict two years ago, but nothing has changed.”
No, nothing has changed.
I admire Laura’s courage. She probably believed she could do some good by extending a fig leaf to the people of the region. But, the real damage has already been done. The war on terror has morphed into a war on Islam, a sad fact that was reinforced this week in a Newsweek report about the desecration of the Quran in American prison facilities. The deep-seated distrust is bound to last a generation or more.
Ms. Bush is undoubtedly aware of America’s sinking popularity in the Muslim world. In Egypt alone the US favorability rating went from 63% in year 2000 to a dismal 2% in 2005. Other polls show similar results throughout the Islamic world. It’ll take a lot more than a brisk junket to Al-Aqsa mosque to reverse those numbers.
Arabs judge America by its actions and its hypocrisy. For example, everyone in the region knows that Guantanamo, Bagram and Abu Ghraib are packed to capacity with Muslims, and yet Defense analyst Larry Franklin and his friends at AIPAC have been released on bond after handing over state secrets to Israel.
The same is true of self-avowed terrorist Luis Posada who was spirited out of the US after his involvement in a terrorist bombing of a Cuban airliner, while (Muslim) Jose Padilla sits in his 5x7 foot windowless cell for three years deprived of all his constitutional rights. This type of duplicity is a constant source of debate in the Arab press.
So, realizing this, did Laura really believe her visit to Al Aqsa Mosque would change hearts and minds?
“Why do you come here,” one man in the crowd jeered. “Your husband kills Muslims.” (Associated Press)
It’s difficult to know if Ms. Bush was affected by the heckling, but she is human, unlike the entourage that surrounds the president. Her self-deprecating remarks indicate that she’s far different from the callous throng that washed into the White House after the fraudulent 2000 election.
“When we look at our own history we know that we, of course, have not done everything right,” she said. “As we try to promote democracy and human rights and women’s rights around the world we have to look at ourselves as well and to make sure that we’re living what we’re saying.”
The candor and humility of this statement is a striking departure from the normally strident tone from the administration.
Could it be that Laura is just an innocent victim of a White House public relations coup?
Certainly, no one would be surprised to find out that Bush confidante Karen Hughes masterminded Laura’s trip. Hughes’ task is to move the political shells around the global-checkerboard to put a friendly face on Yankee imperialism. But, is the administration really so desperate for credibility that they’d use Laura Bush as the sacrificial lamb to beef-up their popularity? After all, her visit wasn’t without its risks.
An editorial in Pravda may shed some light on Hughes thinking: “However pathetic it is to see Laura Bush being used by the regime because she is the only human face left in Washington, it is also true that she is a far better ambassador for her country than her husband, the President or his friend Condoleezza Rice.”
Yes, she is a “far better ambassador” but, nevertheless, the trip is looking more and more like just another cynical ploy engineered by a hyperactive White House PR team.
Mazen, a 50-year-old carpet salesman outside the Al Aqsa mosque may have summed it up best: “It’s mainly a publicity stunt.”
Mike Whitney lives in Washington state, and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
* It Runs in the Family by John Chuckman
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