I know it’s easy to forget that fact, or assume that Bush is now irrelevant, in the face of the media’s round the clock coverage of every possible smidgen of information related to Obama and Clinton and their titanic struggle to win the Democratic nomination this Spring. Even St. John of the McCain and his daughter’s wedding got more press than Mr. Bush. But to assume that his overwhelming unpopularity with Americans, and his lame duck status makes him insignificant would be foolish. Far from it. As the months of his reign dwindle to a precious few he only becomes more dangerous.

And the one place where he can still do the most damage to our country, and the world in general, is his favorite (and I mean this literally) stomping ground, the Middle East, which he is again scheduled to visit this week. Despite the failure of the Iraq war, his misguided attempts to destroy Hamas and Hezbollah, and the growth of Iranian influence in the region, the last thing he wanted to happen, he still possesses the power to create turmoil by unleashing American military might against Iran. All he needs is for the Sunni nations in the region, concerned about Iran’s growing power and influence, to grudgingly agree to stand by while once again Bush, in his favorite role as the Commander-in-Chief Guy” orders his military to take out Tehran. It’s the last stupid thing he can still do before departing office, and all indications are that it’s a step he is determined to take.

Apart from Israel, to which Bush has been by far the most indulgent president in the Jewish state’s history, he is likely to get his warmest – if most anxious – reception when he meets with the assembled Sunni leaders, many of whom are as concerned about Shi’ite Hezbollah’s show of force as is Israel.

Like Bush, not to mention Israel, they see Hezbollah’s victory as another in a series of advances by Iran in its effort to shift the balance of power in the Gulf and the wider region against Washington and its allies there. It is an impression that Bush, somewhat ironically, will be eager to reinforce, if only to revive the dying embers of his hopes for a de facto US-Sunni Arab-Israeli coalition against Tehran, even without a viable Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

“To me, it’s the single biggest threat to peace in the Middle East, the Iranian regime,” he told an interviewer from Israel’s TV Channel 10, according to a partial transcript released on Monday. “Their funding of Hezbollah – look what’s happening in Lebanon now, a young democracy trying to survive … [I]t’s in Israel interest that the Lebanese democracy survives. You need to be concerned about Iran, and you are concerned about Iran and so are we.”

That Bush’s own policies are behind the growth in Iranian influence is beyond question. Iraq’s Shi’ite dominated government is practically an Iranian surrogate in the region, even though America has been bearing the costs of arming and supporting it. The irony of this fact may be lost on Bush, but it certainly isn’t on many neoconservatives who have watched their dreams of an American empire get blown away in Iraq like the sand in a desert windstrom:

[V]irtually all analysts in Washington agree that almost everything Bush has done in the region – from invading Iraq and ousting Saddam Hussein and then rejecting an Iranian offer to negotiate a settlement on all outstanding issues; to pressing for the total isolation of Hamas after it won (US-backed) democratic elections in the Palestinian Territories and egging on the Israelis in their attack on Lebanon and Hezbollah in 2006 – has undermined US standing and influence, even as it enhanced Tehran’s.

Even in Iraq, recent US attacks on Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army, particularly in Baghdad’s Sadr City, appear to have bolstered the government factions with the closest and most-longstanding ties to Iran – the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council and its Badr Organization, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Da’wa party.

The fact that Tehran itself played a key role in brokering the truces between Muqtada and the government in both the southern city of Basra last month and in Sadr City last weekend underlines the degree to which Iran is effectively challenging Washington in what neo-conservative hawk Reuel Marc Gerecht of the American Enterprise Institute admits “is the only arena [in the region] where the administration is capable of moving effectively against Tehran”.

Which will only reinforce the desire of the “dead enders” in the Bush administration, led by Cheney, to make one last run at bombing their nemesis. And it’s highly likely that the biggest dead ender of them all is the President himself. Five years removed from his “Mission Accomplished” moment when media morons like Chris Matthews swooned over his manly package as he strutted across the stage of one of the most absurdist photo ops in history, the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, in his tight fitting flight suit, Bush appears ready to put on his warlord costume one last time.

Still, some observers believe Hezbollah’s victory may yet serve the administration’s ends, if only by reminding the Sunni leaders with whom Bush meets this week that, in Gerecht’s words again, “Tehran is on a roll,” and they need the US and even Israel to contain it and roll back its influence.

Indeed, some analysts believe the weekend’s events may add to the gradually growing clamor by hawks in and outside the administration to take military action – if only, for now, limited strikes on weapons factories and training sites inside Iran allegedly used by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps to train “terrorists” in Iraq, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Territories – to “put Iran in its place”.

“The next couple of days may be critical,” said one former senior Central Intelligence Agency officer with expertise on the region, who added that any decision to “strike will actually motivated by an irresistible urge, stemming from pure frustration over continuing American impotence throughout the region, just to ‘do something’ … even though the actual positive gain in this case would be minimal, while the downside risks are enormous.”

Bush is still the Decider, the leader of a “corrupt criminal enterprise” which I predict will not go gently into that good night of political oblivion. Like a spoiled little bully who’s finally been made to seem like the petty and impotent tyrant that he is, he will lash out one more time to let the world know he’s still the biggest bad ass on the planet. You see, for Bush, the only thing he really understands, and the only path he prefers to take to reshape reality for us to study, is the use of military force. That thousands may die and millions suffer for his grandiose schemes of world domination through violence means nothing to him. He may cry tears for his daughter at her wedding, but rest assured, he will never shed a tear, or spend a sleepless night, over the murderous consequences his actions.

And until January, 2009, he is still the man with his finger on the button of Armageddon.

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