Middle East "strategery" has never been George Bush's strong suit. So when the Great Decider declares that he will bring a lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians before the end of his term, don't bet your subprime mortgage on it.
If only he would make a similar bold declaration that he will unite that one impossibility with a withdrawal from Iraq...well, then, now we're talking serious second coming possibilities.
"I've got twelve months left in office," Bush declared after promising he would not impose any deadlines on the parties. For readers collectively holding their breath, the president was shortchanging himself by a few days (according to my Bush Countdown Clock, his term expires 374 days, 13 minutes and 12 seconds from this very moment (10:40PM EST)).
Bush's commitment to commence Kissingerian-style shuttle diplomacy can either be attributed to his paternal desire to salvage the tarnished image of his maligned Secretary of State, or a genuine recognition that he might as well do something about the mess he and his team helped create in the Middle East since they cannot salvage a positive legacy in Iraq.
So what can Bush actually do to cajole the sides into an agreement?
If the past is prologue, he can start by putting a full time, highly regarded envoy on the ground that will actually have authority and full presidential prestige. The occasional photo-op drive by visits by SecState Rice to the region is no substitute for serious Mid East shuttle diplomacy.
Additionally, Bush is going to have to secure the early and unconditional buy-in of Arab states, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, to ensure that they will bless and incubate the decisions of Mahmoud Abbas' shaky Palestinian Authority government, which will surely face threats and violence from their Gazan Hamas fraternal terror brothers to kill a deal with Israel.
Moreover, if there ever was an instance where bipartisanship could trump presidential politics in an election year, it is when the US tries to bring peace to the Middle East. Bush has a unique opportunity to forge a domestic consensus for his roll of the dice; provided that the Decider does not appear to pushing Israel into a deal that it considers indefensible from its own security vantage point.
It's a real shame that the Bush team cannot see the forest from the trees.
The entire Middle East needs a new, more thoughtful and innovative American re-engagement. Bush faces a sea of skeptics who have long given up on him. Arabs, like Americans want "Change" in U.S. policies. Given the tremendous Arab resentment toward his presidency, getting Arabs irrevocably and publicly on board the Mid East peace train will be just as difficult as dividing Jerusalem between Israel and a future Palestinian state.
But grant Bush some credit for his efforts. Given how low the bar is now set, at least he is trying to grow an olive tree rather than bulldoze one down.