Bush Falls Short of Progress on Mideast Goals

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President Bush has two strategic goals in the Middle East — promoting democracy and isolating Iran. So far, NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr says, the president has made very little progress on either one.

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DANIEL SCHORR: President Bush appears to be pursuing a two-fold policy in his swing around the Middle East.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

NPR's senior news analyst, Daniel Schorr.

SCHORR: He is trying to promote democracy and trying to isolate Iran. So far, he has little to show for either of these efforts. On the democracy front in Kuwait, women can now vote in national elections. But in Egypt, the authoritarian president, Hosni Mubarak, piles up 90 percent of the vote in a rigged election, and an opposition candidate ends up in jail.

Mr. Bush's zeal for pushing freedom and democracy is tempered by his effort to line up support against Iran. And so in the United Arab Emirates, a human rights activist had trouble delivering a petition to the American Embassy. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In BAHRAIN, a human rights activist had trouble delivering a petition to the American Embassy.]

In the contest for predominance in the Middle East, Mr. Bush is finding that Iran has its own cards to play. In one recent incident in the Strait of Hormuz, Iran managed to set American nerves on edge when patrol boats made a feint of approaching an American destroyer, and then scurried away when challenged. In an earlier incident, an American vessel may have overreacted by firing warning shots.

Iran is also working to counter Mr. Bush's efforts to assemble an anti-Iran coalition by choosing a strategic moment to invite Mohamed ElBaradei, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, to Tehran. Baradei was received, not only by the hard-line president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but also by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Iran's promise to disclose all its nuclear operations may complicate Mr. Bush's effort to assemble a coalition supporting more stringent sanctions against Iran. In the diplomatic contest for influence in the region, Mr. Bush has found a formidable foe.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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Correction Jan. 17, 2008

In the broadcast version of this commentary, Daniel Schorr referred to a human rights activist having trouble delivering a petition to the American Embassy in the United Arab Emirates. According to The Washington Post, which reported the story, the incident occurred in Bahrain, not the United Arab Emirates.

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