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Once high, Arab hopes for Bush fall

Once seen as a hope for peace, the US leader has lost esteem in Arab eyes

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In the Egyptian newspaper cartoon, President Bush, framed inside a TV set, shakes a bandaged, obviously overworked index finger. He says, "Well, I thought it was North Korea, but Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld told me to say that Iraq is the greatest threat to global peace." In the corner of the sketch in the "Al-Ahali" weekly is a picture of a dove, an olive branch in its beak, shooting itself in the head with a pistol.

Another Arab political cartoon displays the US president riding high in a tank, about to run a red light on the road from Damascus to Baghdad.

The sketches reflect some of the many powerful and often negative images of the US leader that resonate in the Arab world two years after his election. Mr. Bush rose to power with Arab tongues wagging about new chances for peace and a US leader who understood the nuances of the oil business.

But that mood has given way to disappointment and, sometimes, sharp recrimination, say Arab analysts.

"There is a sense here that President Bush knows well the oil beneath the sand, but understands little of our suffering," says Fouad Mardoud, the editor of Syria Times, the country's largest English-language daily. "We look at him as selfish and easily manipulated. We believe that hawks are making the policy in Washington; that Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and Condi Rice have persuaded Bush to use military might to dominate the region."

"We knew his father," adds Mardoud. "We knew the father had very constructive ideas, and we appreciated the work that Secretary of State James Baker had done in forming the coalition against Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and talking about a road map for peace."

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