by Sidney Blumenthal | The Guardian | 14 November 2003
Tony Blair, about to welcome George Bush to London with pomp and circumstance, has assumed the mantle of tutor to the unlearned president.
Bush originally came to Blair determined to go to war in Iraq, but without a strategy. Blair instructed him that the casus belli was Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, urged him to make the case before the UN, and - when the effort to obtain a UN resolution failed - convinced him to revive the Middle East peace process, which the president had abandoned. The road map for peace was the principal concession Blair wrested from him.
The prime minister argued that renewing the negotiations was essential to the long-term credibility of the coalition goals in Iraq and the whole region. But within the Bush administration that initiative was systematically undermined. Now Blair welcomes a president who has taught him a lesson in statecraft that he refuses to acknowledge.
Flynt Leverett, a former CIA analyst, revealed to me that the text of the road map was ready to be made public before the end of 2002: "We had made commitments to key European and Arab allies. The White House lost its nerve. It took Blair to get Bush to put it out." This man knows what he's talking about. In addition to his CIA role, Leverett is a former senior director for Middle East affairs at the national security council, an author of the road map, and a fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. "We needed to work this issue hard," he says, "but because we didn't want to make life difficult with Sharon, we undercut our credibility."
In the internal struggle over peace in the Middle East, the neo-conservatives within the administration prevailed. Elliot Abrams, chief of Middle East affairs at the NSC, was their main man. During the Iran-contra scandal, Abrams had helped set up a rogue foreign policy operation. His soliciting of $10m from the Sultan of Brunei for the illegal enterprise turned farcical when he juxtaposed numbers on a Swiss bank account and lost the money. He pleaded guilty to lying to Congress and then spent his purgatory as director of a neo-conservative thinktank, denouncing the Oslo Accords and arguing that "tomorrow's lobby for Israel has got to be conservative Christians, because there aren't going to be enough Jews to do it". Abrams was rehabilitated when George Bush appointed him to the NSC.
In his new position, Abrams set to work, trying to gut the text of the road map. He was suspicious of the Europeans and British, considering them to be anti-Israel, if not inherently anti-semitic. But working in league with his allies in Cheney's office and at the defence department, Abrams failed to prevent Blair from persuading Bush to issue the road map at last.
The key to the road map's success was US support for the Palestinian prime minister, Abu Mazen, indispensable as a partner for peace, but regarded as a threat by both Sharon and Arafat. At the June summit on the road map, Bush told Abu Mazen: "God told me to strike at al-Qaida and I struck them; then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did; and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East. If you help me I will act."
Abu Mazen was scheduled to come to Washington to meet Bush a month later. For his political survival, he desperately required US pressure on the Sharon government to make concessions on building settlements on the West Bank. Abu Mazen sent a secret emissary to the White House: Khalil Shikaki. I met Shikaki in Ramallah, where he gave his account of this urgent trip. He met Elliot Abrams and laid out what support was needed from Bush if Abu Mazen - and therefore the road map - were to survive. Abrams told him, he says, that Bush "could not agree to anything" due to domestic political considerations: Bush's reliance on the religious right, his refusal to offend the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the demands of the upcoming election. Shikaki pleaded that Abu Mazen presented "a window of opportunity" and could not go on without US help. "He has to show he's capable of doing it himself," Abrams answered dismissively.
Inside the NSC, those in favour of the road map - CIA analysts Flynt Leverett and Ben Miller among others - were forced out. On September 6, Abu Mazen resigned, and the road map collapsed.
Blair provided Bush with a reason for the war in Iraq, and led him to express his plan for peace for the Middle East, preventing Bush from appearing a reckless and isolated leader. In return, the teacher's seminar on the Middle East has been dropped.
Harold Macmillan remarked that after empire the British would act towards the Americans as the Greeks to the Romans. Though the Greeks were often tutors to the Romans, Macmillan neglected to mention that the Greeks were slaves.
· Sidney Blumenthal was a senior adviser to President Clinton and is the author of The Clinton Wars