Wednesday, November 28, 2007

George Bush Shows off His Diplomatic Muscles

From Israel to Germany, it seems US President George Bush has decided to stop pretending that his diplomatic skills are akin to that of a rock, and buckle down and do what needs to get done.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy visited last month to dine on American cuisine with Bush, and declared his shoulder-to-shoulder friendship with the Americans. He was welcomed warmly by Congress and Bush, and will probably be Bush's primary European ally in his last year in office.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has has similar cross-Atlantic warmness to Bush, but certainly not as openly so. Blair's Iraq policy got him in trouble, and Brown does not want to repeat the mistake. But he has indeed maintained that the US and UK are the closest of military allies and friends, despite disagreements.

Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel invited Bush to Germany to talk about Iraq, the Middle East, Global Climate Change, and other topics of worldwide interest. While Merkel and Bush may not be best of friends, this consultation shows that their mutual opinions still matter, and the cross-Atlantic chill seems to have largely thawed.

The Mongolians have declared the US their "third neighbor" (their only two physical neighbors are Russia and China). With the loss of many friends in the former USSR (Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, etc) to the Shanghai Five, a strong ally in Mongolia will give the US presence and flexibility in the region that China has siphoned away.

In the Middle East, Bush is shining. While many Americans and Europeans fear that Bush's sanctions on Iran will lead to war, this is quite unlikely. The administration doesn't have the political capital to try to sneak anything past Congress, nor does it have the military manpower to do much to the Iranians. Bush Administration officials, including Secretary of State Rice, have insisted that there are no war plans. Instead, Bush has united his Western allies in delivering economic sanctions to Iran, both for pushing its nuclear program without IAEA approval and oversight, and for funding the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (the Americans put the Guard on their terror list, and Bush was able to convince many of his Allies to follow). Iran faces a great deal of international and financial pressure to cooperate, and may be forced to capitulate to American demands without a shot being fired.

Most recently, Bush held an Israeli-Palestinian peace talk in Annapolis, Maryland. While many of these talks have happened, to no effect, Bush has managed to wrangle Syria, Saudi Arabia, and delegates from the Arab League to the talks. Their blessing is likely to give the talks legitimacy in the Middle East that they have previously lacked, and Israel's assurance that the Golan Heights are now under negotiation will soften Syria's line in Palestine. Hamas, of course, is protesting furiously, but President Mahmoud Abbas, of the Fatah party, has shown great cooperation. Abbas and Olmert both walked away from the talks with less than they'd hoped to get, but nonetheless signed an agreement to form a peace treaty by the end of 2008. Should it be followed through, an independent Palestinian State could well emerge, and the Americans would likely be the first to jump on recognizing it.

To be frank, I've been surprised and impressed. I never expected such skillful diplomacy from this President, particularly after the stubbornness of 2003 and Iraq. Perhaps personnel changes, or just a change of heart, have caused the behavioral change. Hopefully, this new Bush is here to stay for his last year, and can create a world much more easy to deal with for his successor.
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