As he was drowning politically and personally in scandals that would lead eventually to a humiliating resignation from office, in June 1974 President Richard Nixon took a triumphant seven-day trip to four Arab states and Israel, where, as Time put it, “the huzzas and the hosannas fell like sweet rain.” The magazine suggested that, “coming out of the parched Watergate wasteland of Washington, the praise and the cheers of multitudes were welcome indeed, particularly since each stop, each spectacle, was beamed in living color back to the living rooms of the U.S.”
Following on the flight-route of another unpopular and disgraced Republican White House occupant, President George W. Bush decided that since it was raining in the Midwest, in the form of his falling approval ratings, it was time to seek the sunshine of the Middle East, hoping that the television images of his five-day excursion to the region would help salvage his personal and political legacy in the Midwest and the rest of the United States.
Bush’s legacy includes his ambitious strategy of transforming the Middle East—the destination of his trip—and making it safe for U.S. interests and values. Indeed, Bush’s tour to the region took place a month after the fifth anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War, which was supposed to mark the launching of the Freedom Agenda in the Middle East. Bush and his neoconservative advisors had promised that ousting Saddam Hussein would lead to the establishment of a stable and prosperous democracy in Mesopotamia that would serve as a model for the rest of the Middle East, creating the conditions for the emergence of a pro-U.S. liberal political system in the Arab World and for the resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict (“the road to Jerusalem leads through Baghdad,” as the neoconservatives said).
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