THINGS must be desperate in the White House if Vice President Cheney has to be wheeled out for an unscheduled visit to the Middle East. Mr Cheney has hardly been seen or heard of for weeks or months but both President Bush's and Condoleezza Rice's status in the region is now so low that emergency measures are clearly called for. The Vice President has been given two tasks: firstly, to persuade Middle East oil producers that it is not in their best interests to allow oil prices to continue to soar and therefore an increase in production would be very welcome; secondly, to fix the breakdown of the Annapolis peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. Most of the oil states in the Middle East think that America's economic problems are self-made and are disinclined to come to the rescue. But Mr Cheney may still be owed a few favours and, if so, this is probably the time to cash them in. The Israeli-Palestinian stalemate is another matter entirely; Mr Cheney has no track record on this issue and it is unlikely that a relative newcomer to it will be able to help much. At a press conference on Monday President Bush's said, I'm confident that we'll be able to achieve a vision that shows a way forward. The shrewd Dick Cheney may learn enough to tell his boss that he just doesn't understand what's going on.
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