Hamas Rule in Gaza? President Bush Built That
With the body count growing daily in Gaza, the conservative commentariat has predictably circled the wagons around Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud government. "Rarely does international politics present a moment of such moral clarity," Charles Krauthammer declared this week and repeating Bibi's mantra about his Hamas enemies. "We're using missile defense to protect our civilians, and they're using their civilians to protect their missiles." On Sunday, National Review editor Rich Lowry echoed that point, blaming Hamas for the deaths of four boys obliterated on a Gaza beach by Israeli bombs.
Conveniently missing from their right-wing revisionist history, however, is any mention of how Hamas terrorists came to dominate Gaza in the first place. To borrow a favorite phrase from Republicans, President George W. Bush built that.
In April 2008, David Rose neatly summarized "the Gaza bombshell" in Vanity Fair:
After failing to anticipate Hamas's victory over Fatah in the 2006 Palestinian election, the White House cooked up yet another scandalously covert and self-defeating Middle East debacle: part Iran-contra, part Bay of Pigs. With confidential documents, corroborated by outraged former and current U.S. officials, the author reveals how President Bush, Condoleezza Rice, and Deputy National-Security Adviser Elliott Abrams backed an armed force under Fatah strongman Muhammad Dahlan, touching off a bloody civil war in Gaza and leaving Hamas stronger than ever.
Following the death of Yasser Arafat, Fatah's Mahmoud Abbas was elected President of the Palestinian Authority in January 2005. That March, Lowry rejoiced in the pain of liberals President Bush had supposedly proven wrong with his democracy agenda, while Krauthammer in "Three Cheers for the Bush Doctrine" crowed that "free Palestinian elections producing a moderate leadership" proved that "America made the right decision to invade Iraq."
Alas, within two years of Israel's exit from Gaza Hamas was firmly in control. And much of the blame goes to President George W. Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for pushing prematurely for parliamentary elections and then--when they didn't like the outcome--a bungled coup that left Hamas triumphant and in total control.
Warned that Fatah wasn't ready for elections in which Palestinians fed up with years of Arafat's corruption and cronyism might punish Abbas' party, President Bush said he "wanted to give Palestinians the chance to choose new leaders, ones who were not 'compromised by terror.'" But in January 2006, that's exactly what Bush got, as Hamas won 76 of 132 seats in the Palestinian parliament. As the New York Times reported at the time:
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice acknowledged Sunday that the United States had failed to understand the depth of hostility among Palestinians toward their longtime leaders. The hostility led to an election victory by the militant group Hamas that has reduced to tatters crucial assumptions underlying American policies and hopes in the Middle East.
"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."
(That may explain why her State Department web site omitted any mention of the January 2006 Palestinian elections in its "Middle East Peace Chronology.")
"Everyone blamed everyone else," one Department of Defense official lamented. "We sat there in the Pentagon and said, 'Who the fuck recommended this?' " Four years later in 2010, former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State For Near Eastern Affairs Liz Cheney (above) acknowledged Bush and Rice's catastrophe with Palestinian voters, "I don't think they were ready for it. I don't think we should have pushed it."
With Hamas now in the Palestinian government, Bush and his team scrambled to come up with a plan B. As former Clinton and Obama Middle East negotiator Martin Indyk explained in January 2006, "The conceptual failure that contributed to disaster was the president's belief that democracy and elections solve everything." So, as Rose documented in 2008, President Bush decided to solve Hamas problem the old-fashioned way: through covert action.
Vanity Fair has obtained confidential documents, since corroborated by sources in the U.S. and Palestine, which lay bare a covert initiative, approved by Bush and implemented by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams, to provoke a Palestinian civil war. The plan was for forces led by 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.
Many called the operation "Iran-Contra 2.0" and not just because of the involvement its pardoned architect, Elliott Abrams. With Congress united against providing arms to the Palestinian Authority, Bush and Rice turned to Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates to provide Dahlan's forces with weapons.
But by July 2007, the entire scheme blew up in Bush's face. As David Wurmser, who a month after the Gaza coup resigned as Vice President Dick Cheney's chief Middle East adviser in July 2007, later explained:
Wurmser accuses the Bush administration of "engaging in a dirty war in an effort to provide a corrupt dictatorship [led by Abbas] with victory." He believes that Hamas had no intention of taking Gaza until Fatah forced its hand. "It looks to me that what happened wasn't so much a coup by Hamas but an attempted coup by Fatah that was pre-empted before it could happen," Wurmser says.
The botched plan has rendered the dream of Middle East peace more remote than ever, but what really galls neocons such as Wurmser is the hypocrisy it exposed. "There is a stunning disconnect between the president's call for Middle East democracy and this policy," he says. "It directly contradicts it."
Of course, the likes of Charles Krauthammer, Rich Lowry and David Brooks contradict it, too. Brooks, who in 2005 trumpeted "how thoroughly the Bush agenda is dominating the globe," by 2013 announced he would be "defending the coup" by the Egyptian military against the democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood. As for Krauthammer, there is only one villain responsible for the carnage in Gaza:
It's to the Israelis' credit that amid all this madness they haven't lost their moral scruples. Or their nerve. Those outside the region have the minimum obligation, therefore, to expose the madness and speak the truth. Rarely has it been so blindingly clear.
Of course, the moral calculus of 47 years of Israeli occupation of the West Bank and seven of blockading Gaza isn't so black and white. As for Hamas' conversion of Gaza into a 139 square mile launch pad for rockets, the history of its stranglehold is "blindingly clear."
George W. Bush helped build that.