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Commentary Last Updated: Oct 7th, 2008 - 01:12:23

Welcome shift change ahead
By Linda S. Heard
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Oct 7, 2008, 00:14

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George W. Bush�s time is shortly up. Israel�s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has quit so he can fend off corruption allegations, while Britain�s Gordon Brown beats back his own party colleagues who are after his job. Polls show in all three countries that the majority of voters would like nothing more than to tell each of them, �Don�t let the door hit you on the way out� . . . but for very different reasons.

George Bush�s legacy is well known: Mendacity over the Iraq war, failure to win the alleged �war on terror,� neglect of people caught up in the ravages of Hurricane Katrina, erosion of civil liberties, disrespect for international law, failure to honor his promise to facilitate a Palestinian state, and fiscal irresponsibility that turned a federal budget with a healthy surplus of $128 billion into a massive deficit of $357 billion.

The surprise is his approval rating still hovers around 27 percent even as the US economy is in freefall and when taxpayers are being asked to foot an $800 billion bill to keep financial institutions afloat. If Congress refuses on their behalf, as Bush admitted recently himself, �this sucker could go down.�

Even more unpopular than Bush among his own electorate is Olmert, whose approval rating fell to just 3 percent following the Israel-Lebanon war and rarely rose above single digits since. He will be remembered for misguidedly leading his country into a conflict from which Israel emerged the loser, its myth of invincibility shattered forever.

Unlike Bush, who followed his own convictions without blinking while disregarding opponents� opinions or fluctuating polls, Olmert put his own aside fearful of Israeli public opinion. Following the embarrassing war, he clung to office half-heartedly trying to please everyone and pleasing virtually no one.

On the one hand, he�s been talking peace with his �friend,� Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and, on the other, he�s allowed rampant West Bank settlement expansion that isolates Jerusalem, making a two-state solution even more difficult. But that was before he resigned.

Now that he has little to lose and has no time to implement anything of importance, he�s trying to raise his profile as a statesman. Now free of worries concerning public condemnation, he told the Israeli daily Yedioth Aharonoth that if Israel is serious about making peace with the Palestinians and Syria, it must be prepared to relinquish both East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

He indicated that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were �very close to an agreement� and said, �I�d like to see if there is one serious person in the State of Israel who believes it is possible to make peace with Syrians without eventually giving up the Golan Heights.�

Israelis have reacted according to which side of the political spectrum they belong. The hard-line right-wing camp still dreaming of a greater Israel views his comments as treacherous; the peacenik left is annoyed that he waited until he was virtually out of power to say them. This is nothing more than an act of cowardice, they contend.

It was arguably an act of cowardice that changed the fortunes of Tony Blair�s successor Gordon Brown. As a leader appointed by his party rather than voted in by the electorate, early in his tenure, he gave the strong impression that he was about to call an election.

Then just when opposition parties, the press and the public were geared for one, Brown, who had patiently waited years for the job, changed his mind. The Conservatives went into action to paint the prime minister as weak and indecisive. It was a question of character, they said. Brown, who has since battled terrorism, livestock disease, floods, inflation, growing unemployment, soaring crime, loss of confidence in The City -- Britain�s financial hub � and a volatile economy.

If an election were to be called today, Tory leader David Cameron would certainly be moving into No. 10, so Brown must work hard to keep the loyalty of his Cabinet and party backbenchers while assuring Britons that he�s the best men to lead his country safely through troubled global waters. Bush, Olmert and Brown: Three very different characters, who will leave behind them very different legacies. Interestingly, the man who has done the most damage to his own nation and worldwide, Bush, may leave with his head held relatively highest.

As Stanley Fish predicts in the New York Times, �Within a year of the day he leaves office, and no matter who succeeds him, George W. Bush will be a popular public figure, regarded with affection and a little nostalgia even by those who voted against him and thought he was the worst president in our history.�

He argues that many will miss the funny folksy, gregarious guy who is a basically decent man at peace with himself. Eh? I guess you have to be American to empathize with that description of the man who created and still supports Guantanamo and to date has shown little compassion for the hundreds of thousands dead Iraqi and Afghani civilians, whose lives were lost as a direct result of his wars. The more innocuous Olmert and Brown will not be so easily forgiven by their own publics. My guess is that when Bush is building his library, doing the speech circuit or advising the board of some high-profile corporation the others will have already faded into obscurity. Okay, so nobody said life was fair.

Now we can only wait to see what the next combo might be. Personally, as long as it doesn�t include John McCain and his �I�m a Russian expert because I can see it from my kitchen window� sidekick it can only be better than the one in place today.

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

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