"The mother of all photo ops"

Bush says he's "optimistic" about Middle East peace. Where have we heard that before?

Published November 27, 2007 10:08AM (EST)

An Israeli official calls today's Middle East peace conference in Annapolis, Md., "the mother of all photo ops." Given the president's rather complete lack of attention to the issue over the past seven years, that's probably just about right.

A day or two of effort, even from the leader of the free world, isn't going to solve a problem that has survived much more sustained efforts at resolution, and the Bush administration has made it clear that it's not going to be trying too hard anyway. As the New York Times notes this morning, "For all the pomp of the Annapolis gathering, the White House is not calling it a summit meeting or anything else suggestive of substantive progress."

As for George W. Bush himself? He sat down -- separately -- Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and then declared himself "optimistic" that "peace is possible."

That's a good word, optimistic, and the president has used it a lot. We think it's Texan, or maybe just Bushian, for "it's all about to go completely to hell."

On Dec. 20, 2004, Bush said that he'd spoken with Gens. John Abizaid and George Casey and that they were "optimistic and positive about the gains we're making" in Iraq. In late 2006, the White House pushed Abizaid and Casey aside after it became clear that the United States wasn't, in fact, making gains in Iraq.

On Feb. 28, 2006, Bush said that his "spirits are raised" every time he meets with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi "because he is such a positive, optimistic person." A little more than a month later, Berlusconi's coalition was defeated in Italian elections.

On March 11, 2006, Bush said he was "positive and optimistic" about the "results" Iraqi security forces were achieving in the wake of the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, Iraq. Now Bush cites the bombing of the mosque as the event that sparked the "vicious cycle of sectarian violence" in Iraq.

On March 18, 2006, Bush said he was "optimistic" about Iraq because "slowly but surely our strategy is getting results." By the fall of 2006, the president acknowledged that his "strategy" needed to be reviewed, and in January 2007 he officially abandoned it in favor of the "surge."

On Sept. 19, 2006, Bush said that he had just "made it very clear" to Nouri al-Maliki that "it's important for the government of Iraq" to make progress toward political reconciliation and that he was "optimistic" that Maliki would succeed. More than a year later, the Iraqi government has met only three of 18 benchmarks it was supposed to be meeting.

In his weekly radio address on Dec. 16, 2006, Bush said recent economic news "should brighten the season and keep us optimistic about the year ahead." Holiday sales for 2006 came in lower than expected and investors are now betting on a recession.

On May 16, 2007, Bush said he was "optimistic that we can get comprehensive immigration reform." A month later, the immigration bill for which the president lobbied hard fell 14 votes short of passage in the Senate.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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