George Bush doesn't get bragging rights for the Arab League decision to attend the Annapolis Middle East peace meeting this week. In fact, it might be said that the Arab states are coming not because of the work done by the Administration to prepare for the meeting, but out of their concern with how little had been done to ensure its success.
After 7 years of neglect, Washington decided to engage the Middle East peace process. But in the many months that have passed since President Bush announced his intention to convene an Israeli-Palestinian meeting, and despite Secretary Rice's frequent visits to the region, too little preparatory work has been done. Even at this late date, there are no clear goals,and not even a defined agenda. And, as we have seen in the past, ill-prepared summits often end in failure.
Facing such an outcome, Arab leaders faced few good options. To have stayed away from Annapolis would have left Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas without support and vulnerable to attack. It would also have ensured failure and handed a victory to extremists, with grave consequences for the Palestinians and the entire region.
Coming to Annapolis, on the other hand, gives Palestinians the political support they need and provides Arabs some leverage to press the Bush Administration to do in the meeting's aftermath the work they failed to do in preparation for this summit.
I've long observed that the trademarks of this Administration's approach to foreign policy has been: to neglect a problem when they might have taken action to help solve it; to let ideology trump reality when they finally do get involved; and to "spin" when they fail.
Already at the third step, Secretary Rice is boasting that Annapolis is a success because the Israelis and Palestinians have agreed to negotiate with each other. But that is precisely what should have happened, under her leadership, in the lead-up to Annapolis!
Unless the U.S. now changes its approach and makes a determined effort to press the Israelis to be more forthcoming with the Palestinians, while providing both the Israelis and Palestinians the support they will need to make tough choices for peace -- post-Annapolis will differ little from pre-Annapolis.
That is why the Arabs, despite their misgivings about the Administration's performance and intentions, have decided that was best for them to participate -- to provide their personal support to the Palestinian leadership, to provide economic support to the Palestinian people, to provide political support to the process, itself, and to press the Bush Administration to act.