The Middle East peace conference convened by the United States in Annapolis, Md., may or may not move the Israeli-Arab conflict closer to resolution (my money is on “may not”). But, whatever happens, there is already one winner: George W. Bush.
This is Bush’s bash. His name is on the invitation. The party is at his place. The guests are strictly A-list. Every country that matters, and a lot that don’t, will be represented. The European Union, the United Nations and the Arab League will be there too. They are all coming for the same reason: They have been summoned by the one man in the world to whom no one wants to say no.
It turns out that Bush, far from wrecking America’s prestige and influence, has compounded it. Every government in the world knows that attending the Annapolis conference under the aegis of the president of the United States is an unmistakable acknowledgment that America remains the world’s indispensable state.
In the past, there were foreign leaders who might have attempted to spoil the party. President Jacques Chirac of France, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of Germany, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan were all publicly rude to Bush at one time or another, and perhaps they would have dissed him again this time. But guess what? None of them is invited. They are all gone from office -- a fact not lost on their successors, who are almost embarrassingly anxious to be friendly with the Bush administration.
India, America’s longtime critic and new best friend in Asia, also will be at the party in Annapolis. So will Japan, which remains a staunch U.S. ally in Asia. In fact, every single democracy in the free world -- including all of New Europe -- wants to be in on the party.
The Russians are coming, and so are the Chinese -- respectful rivals who know who really holds power in the world. The world’s largest Muslim countries will attend for the same reason.
Most telling, the vast majority of Arab leaders, almost all of whom have remained (or in some cases, become) American allies, will be in Annapolis.
Even Iraq is sending a delegation.
The plain fact is that virtually all of the world’s most influential nations, give or take a handful of despotic regimes, have been summoned to Annapolis and have agreed to come. No other American president has ever assembled such a gathering.
This raises a couple of ticklish questions. For example, will the Democratic Party join the festivities? For the last seven years, Democrats have derided Bush as an international pariah, a bungler who has alienated the world, left U.S. alliances in tatters and besmirched the country’s good name. Four years ago, John Kerry ran on this premise. Today, the leading Democratic candidates have all made it a foundational talking point.
The Democrats have two choices: They can tacitly admit that they have been wrong for the last seven years about the malign effects of Bush’s foreign policy on America’s place in the world, or they can go on insisting that the anti-Bush polemicists in the European media and a few Third World “pollsters” (“Excuse me, sir, would you mind sharing your possibly life-threatening political opinions with me, a perfect stranger?”) are a more reliable guide to reality than the evidence of Annapolis.
Despite the assurances of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the U.S. has not been humiliated in Mesopotamia. On the contrary, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the subsequent determination of the American occupation have concentrated the minds of the (ever fewer) anti-American Arab despots.
And then there is a question about what Annapolis actually means for the Arab-Israeli conflict. For years, George W. Bush has been pilloried by all Right-Thinking People for ignoring the Palestinian issue -- by which they meant that he took the Israeli side.
But the truth is that as a result of Bush’s unwavering Zionism, he is deeply admired and trusted by most Israelis. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is neither admired nor trusted; he can’t, on his own authority, sell a two-state compromise, with all the necessary concessions, to the Israeli public. Any agreement he reaches will rely for Israeli domestic ratification on the public’s belief that Bush will not countenance a sellout. This is the result of seven years of active American policy -- the very opposite of the neglect Bush’s critics allege.
Peace almost certainly will not be made in Annapolis. But a point will be made there nonetheless. It turns out that all the sound and fury of the anti-Bush rhetoric has signified nothing. The president has thrown himself an end-of-term party and the world is showing up, wearing smiles and bearing gifts. Maybe it isn’t as cool as getting the Stones to play your 60th birthday party, but Annapolis will have its moments.
Especially the group picture.