When George W. Bush makes way for Barack Obama in January, the new president will face many of the same issues that dogged the previous administration. According to Bush, few will be as "vexing" as the Middle East.
Obama faces huge challenges in dealing with the myriad problems in the Middle East
When Barack Obama takes his oath on January 20th to become the 44th president of the United States of America, he will not only be making history as the country's first black leader but he will bringing to an end one of the most unpopular administrations in living memory.
However, while George W. Bush and the majority of his colleagues will be replaced, many of the policies and situations engineered during the 43rd president's term of office will remain. These present Obama and his team with monumental challenges. Which of Bush's policies will be reversed, which will be scrapped and which will remain?
One of the most serious situations facing the new president will be that of the Middle East. Bush himself has recently said that when he vacates the Oval Office, he will be handing Obama a Middle East which represents "the most vexing problem"; a region in which Iran still seeks nuclear arms and the Arab-Israeli conflict continues.
Bush admitted last week that the Middle East remains a huge problem with Tehran and Damascus still suspected of sponsoring terrorism, the Iraq war continuing to be more bloody and costly than expected while the democratic reforms he had hoped for in the region had come "in fits and starts" while his peace efforts had suffered "unfortunate setbacks."
But Bush maintained that despite frustrations and disappointments, the Middle East in 2008 was a freer, more hopeful, and more promising place than it was in 2001.
Obama shares Bush's views on nuclear Iran
Obama says he will not allow Iran to reach its nuclear potential
Before Obama is handed the keys to the White House, Bush warned that Iran's suspect nuclear program "remains a major threat to peace" and warned anew that Washington will not permit Tehran to get an atomic arsenal. Obama has vowed to "do everything in my power" to that same end.
"We have made our bottom line clear: For the safety of our people and the peace of the world, America will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon," said the out-going president.
Bush, the first sitting US president to call for an independent Palestinian state at peace with Israel, defended his approach to ending the six-decade conflict despite a lack of concrete progress from US-backed negotiations.
"On the most vexing problem in the region -- the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- there is now greater international consensus than at any point in recent memory," he said.
Israeli-Palestinian resolution remains US priority
Bush claims credit for the progress made in Israel
Bush called the two-state approach "one of the highest priorities of my presidency," described talks following a US-sponsored November 2007 conference in Annapolis, Maryland, as "determined and substantial."
"While the Israelis and Palestinians have not yet produced an agreement, they have made important progress," he said. "They have laid a new foundation of trust for the future."
The Bush administration blamed Israeli political turmoil in November as it all but ruled out a peace deal in 2008 to pave the way for an independent Palestinian state living side-by-side at peace with Israel.
But even before that, revived peace efforts had yet to resolve any major core disputes, and progress seemed difficult in the face of the Palestinian rift pitting President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah against the Islamists of Hamas.
Hamas has controlled Gaza since seizing control in June 2007, while Abbas has controlled the West Bank from his headquarters in Ramallah.
Obama has vowed to continue to support the talks.
Bush defends Iraq war and efforts to democratize region
Bush's presidency will be forever linked to the Iraq war
Bush fiercely defended his decision to invade Iraq in March 2003, but called the war "longer and more costly than expected," while pointing to Iraq's fledgling democracy as one of the hopeful signs in the region.
He also cited Lebanon's "Cedar Revolution" against Syrian sway, Libya's decision to halt its quest for nuclear weapons, increased enthusiasm for democratic reforms, and prosperity in places such as the United Arab Emirates.
"Iran is facing greater pressure from the international community than ever before," while terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda "are increasingly facing ideological rejection in the Arab world," he said.
"These efforts have not always gone according to plan, and in some areas we have fallen short of our hopes," said Bush, who made no mention of Obama in his speech.
"It's rather difficult to see that we did not see a sharp deterioration in the American position in the Middle East," said Anthony Cordesman, an expert at the Center of Strategic and International Studies think tank.
"It's very difficult to point to any achievement. If there have been achievements almost all come from the United States military," he told reporters.