Sunday's cross-border raid into Syria by US forces serves as a reminder that although George W. Bush is now a "lame duck" president, he still retains the ability to make dangerous waves in the Middle East. His power might be easier to accommodate if it had been wielded over the years with good judgement for the purpose of achieving clearly defined objectives. The problem is that the 43rd president's pursuits in this part of the world have more often been haphazard, counterproductive and/or disastrous.
The raid on Syria, for example, has already had the adverse effect of throwing a monkey wrench into negotiations between Baghdad and Washington over a security pact that would govern the presence of US troops in Iraq. Iraqi officials are concerned that the US will seek to use its mandate in their country to carry out additional military attacks on neighboring states, and these fears are all the more pronounced in the wake of the US attack. The raid has also dealt a blow to ongoing efforts to forge a diplomatic coalition among Iraq's neighbors, whose efforts have been as essential to improving Iraq's security as the US troop "surge." Contradictory policies such as these - which have been all too common during this presidency - make the military and diplomatic decision-makers in the Bush administration appear as though they are operating in a circular firing squad.
The internal contradictions also make it impossible for anyone to know what to expect next from Bush. His power would not be nearly as terrifying to the people of this region had it been consistently harnessed throughout his presidency for the purpose of advancing a discernable set of objectives. We might have understood, for example, if Bush had unfailingly used all of the powers of his office to advance the cause of democracy and had worked to topple each and every dictatorial regime across the region. Instead, he has chosen to arbitrarily court some autocrats while ostracizing others and to encourage democratic activism while remaining silent when democratic activists are jailed. The end result of this odd mix of policies is that the Bush administration has become a riddle of jumbled messages that put his motivations in question.
Exasperation over Bush's presidency was best expressed by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem, whose measured response to Sunday's raid was to condemn America's act of "terrorism" and voice hope that the next US president will "learn from the mistakes of this administration." Indeed, the best that the people of this region can hope for in these final days of Bush's presidency is that the citizens of the United States will choose a better leader when they go to the polls on November 4. The United States used to be admired around the world for its commitment to noble ideals, but now it is widely feared as a result of its erratic and unpredictable policies. The next president will need to work hard to send a more coherent message - and to restore the country to its former glory.