Nightmare in the Middle East

Things went from bad to worse in the Middle East for the Bush administration last week.

First came the revelation, from CBS News and Sixty Minutes II, as well as The New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh, that military police, male and female, had humiliated and tortured Iraqi detainees being held in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, Saddam Hussein’s former torture facility near Baghdad. Worse, it turned out that military higher-ups had known about these incidents as far back as January and covered them up.

Then, when that cover-up was exposed, the higher-ups tried to scapegoat the soldiers. Since then it’s become increasingly clear that the torture was part of an established process, orchestrated by military intelligence officials, to “soften up” the prisoners for interrogation.

Photos of hooded naked Iraqi men being humiliated in front of female American soldiers, as well as pictures of men actually being tortured, were broadcast on television over and over throughout the Arab world, further inflaming resentment toward the United States. Osama bin Laden couldn’t have done a better job of it if he’d tried.

Compounding this disaster was the situation in Israel, where on Sunday, May 2, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s own Likud Party soundly rejected his plan for withdrawing settlements from the Gaza Strip. Just two weeks earlier, President Bush had taken a huge gamble—and deeply angered the Arab world—when he’d strongly embraced Sharon’s plan, which included partial withdrawal from the West Bank but also granted permanent status to many settlements there.

Bush’s surprising support for the plan effectively ended more than 40 years of American policy, which hitherto opposed the settlements. And, in yet another example of Bush’s go-it-alone approach, it again put the U.S. at odds with our European allies, who did not support Sharon’s plan and were not consulted.

The administration took a huge gamble on Ariel Sharon and lost, shredding its credibility even further and effectively destroying its own "road map to peace." That, on top of the revelations of torture in Iraq, have us feeling as if we’re in nightmare from which we’re unable to awake.