Middle East Bush Failure: Hamas

In the world of diplomacy, words matter (perhaps more than anything). That’s why when President Bush called for democracy in Palestine, he should have considered the consequences.

In the Jan. 25, 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections, the terrorist group Hamas gained 76 of the Parliament’s 132 seats. The former ruling party Fatah finished with 43 seats. By comparison, in the previous election of 1996 Fatah held 55 seats and Hamas none.

These results have to be considered in light of the Bush Administration’s justification for the Iraq War. In toppling Saddam and installing the Iraq Provisional Authority, Bush claimed to be acting in the interests of democratizing the Middle East. The call for elections in Iraq became a political mantra, even as Iraq remained under the U.S. occupation.

On November 6, 2003, Bush expanded on this rhetoric in a speech for the 20th Anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, where he said:

“For the Palestinian people, the only path to independence and dignity and progress is the path of democracy.”

Whether the statement was sincere or disingenuous, the results are the same. Hamas won the election and numerous reports indicate that the Bush Admin was surprised by that result. In a Jan. 26, 2006 press conference, Bush weakly denied being surprised, stating:

“If there is corruption, I’m not surprised that people say, let’s get rid of corruption. If government hadn’t been responsive, I’m not the least bit surprised that people said, I want government to be responsive.”

On January 30, 2006, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was more candid (as reported by the New York Times), admitting that the administration did not foresee the possibility of a Hamas victory.

“I’ve asked why nobody saw it coming,” Ms. Rice said, speaking of her own staff. “It does say something about us not having a good enough pulse.”

While this was in itself proof of yet another intelligence failure, it was also the beginning of the even greater policy failure. After agitating for democratic reforms in the Middle East, the Bush Admin reaffirmed its support of Fatah leader and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Again standing in the very corner into which it had painted itself, the U.S. refused to deal with Hamas unless it recognized Israel and renounced terrorism. As it turns out, the Bush Admin’s attempt to isolate and undermine Hamas resulted in even greater death and destruction.

In April 2008, Vanity Fair reported that President Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Deputy National-Security Adviser Elliott Abrams had backed armed action by Fatah against Hamas. Author David Rose wrote:

“The plan was for forces led by [Fatah strongman Muhammad] Dahlan, and armed with new weapons supplied at America’s behest, to give Fatah the muscle it needed to remove the democratically elected Hamas-led government from power. (The State Department declined to comment.)

But the secret plan backfired, resulting in a further setback for American foreign policy under Bush. Instead of driving its enemies out of power, the U.S.-backed Fatah fighters inadvertently provoked Hamas to seize total control of Gaza.”

The result was the 2007 Battle of Gaza (June 7 to June 15, 2007), a civil war in which Hamas seized complete control of the Gaza Strip. Nominal Palestinian President Abbas subsequently dissolved the “unity” government and today we have open warfare in Gaza between Israel and Hamas. Now, despite whatever justification it can claim, Israel faces potential disaster even as it exercises all the asymmetrical power at its command. Whatever the final outcome, an identifiable series of Bush policy failures has produced this almost inevitable result.

Sources and Related Information

Rice Admits U.S. Underestimated Hamas Strength, New York Times, Jan. 30, 2006

The Gaza Bombshell, Vanity Fair, April 2008

President Bush Discusses Freedom in Iraq and Middle East, Remarks Nov. 6, 2003

President Bush Not Surprised, White House Press Conference, Jan. 26, 2006