Monday, August 07, 2006

Dizzy Miss Leezza

Condoleezza Rice seems rather intent on proving her critics correct - those that warned that she lacked the requisite temperament, adroitness and broad knowledge needed to effectively run the Bush administration's diplomatic policy through the State Department.

While her profoundly dismal performance as National Security Advisor should have provided all the guidance necessary in terms of predicting the likely outcome of her eventual tenure at State, like others, I was perhaps too willing to grant her the benefit of the doubt. I was over-eager to take the first few promising glimpses of light from Rice's new role and assume the best. It was as much wishful thinking as anything else.

The country could hardly endure a repeat performance of what was characteristic indecision, a weak will in the face of other administration heavy-weights (Cheney, Rumsfeld) and a general willingness to tend more to spin and the party line, than to inject contrarian thinking and active debate into the policy-making process (the latter objective being one of her, ostensibly, primary functions in the role of National Security Advisor).

As should have been intuitive, the leopard has not been able to shed the spots. What was a promising launch for Rice (perhaps overhyped?), has plummeted back to the terra firma that is the status quo for the Bush team: The repeated failure of policy undertaken with remarkable consistency and a shocking disregard for history's guidance - even recent and real-time history. I really don't think I'm being hyperbolic when I say that it is increasingly difficult to point to any serious accomplishment for this administration in almost any arena. This presidency has employed the reverse-Midas touch with a relentless, and tragic, thoroughness.

And so the "Warrior Princess" went from cock-sure and defiant in the initial days of the renewed violence between Israel and Lebanon - taunting the world with her lack of urgency, promising no end until a highly unrealistic list of demands were met - to visibly nervous and shaken as she whirled in and out of Beirut casting about (unsuccessfully) for another Arab capital willing to host her, with almost nothing to show for her suddenly more focused efforts. With the situation careening out of control, Rice wasn't even welcomed back in Beirut so she was forced to attempt a face-saving "cancellation" of a trip for which she was not welcomed to make.

In the meantime, we lost the support of friendly Arab nations in the region, Hezbollah has gained mightily in terms of prestige and popularity, the crisis is strengthening the hand of some of our most spirited challengers in Iraq (al-Sadr) and the fighting is doing much to tarnish the image of the Israeli military as the juggernaut of yore.

Yet despite these setbacks, Rice has been hewing to the confoundingly wrong-headed policy that we would not engage or dialogue with Syria and Iran (who we also claim are pulling Hezbollah's strings!) until they change their behavior. So no negotiations, no discussions, until you meet our demands.

This ignores the dictates of basic diplomacy 101 as Edward Djerejian put it in a July 23 appearance on CNN:

"I come from the school of diplomacy that you negotiate conflict resolution and peace with your enemies and adversaries, not with your friends," he said. "We've done it in the past, we can do it again."

Speaking of friends, Rice's lone and relatively underwhelming victory thus far is the draft resolution put forth by the French and the Americans for UN approval. But, as Pat Lang noted:

France and the United States are not at war with each other. They cannot agree to end the fighting.

In addition, neither France nor the US is Iran or Syria, two nations the Bush administration views as puppetmasters to their proxy Hezbollah. So getting this to stick will require a new round of...dread...negotiations. Ah, maybe that Ed Djerejian guy has a point. Something else is going on as well. As Lang also observes:

Hizbullah thinks it is winning both tactically and strategically. Why will it agree to anything other than a cease-fire in place?

A funny thing happened on the way to the "eradication of Hezbollah" as Michael Rubin so indelicately put it. Check out this run-down by the War Nerd and Swopa's follow-up here. While the IDF might have exposed some weaknesses that it would have preferred to remain shrouded in myth and ambiguity, Hezbollah has grown emboldened by their successes, and by the win-win scenario they are currently enjoying at Israel's expense (and Lebanon's, ultimately) .

By once again investing undue faith in the ability of massive military power employed in a counter-insurgency/4th generation warfare context to achieve desired aims, the Bush administration has predictably weakened its position. Again.

It's not that I don't expect Hezbollah to accept a cease-fire (perhaps a modification of this one), it's that I expect the eventual terms of the cease-fire (or its de facto implementation) to reflect this unfortunate tilt in bargaining power between the warring parties.

All the while Rice has tried to spin the events this way and that way such that even she gets tripped up from the dizziness at times. Here, we see Rice trying to put a happy, purple-tinted gloss on the anti-Israeli, anti-American protests in Iraq last week (sparked by the Lebanese violence) that numbered in the hundreds of thousands:

"That people would go out and demonstrate and say what they feel is the one sign that perhaps Iraq is one place in the Middle East where people are exercising their right to free speech," she said.

OK, leaving aside the fact that the protesters in question were largely followers of Moqtada al-Sadr, and are thus themselves not necessarily predisposed to place a high value on such lofty liberal concepts as free speech (at least when it doesn't aid their cause), one can understand Rice's attempt to cast this as a victory for democracy. See, peaceful protesters expressing their minds! (never mind that such expression happens to include chants of "Death to the United States").

Fair enough. Democracy as manifested by mass protest. This is a good sign. A model for the region. But then Rice gets turned around by her own spin:

She said she thinks that as Iraq becomes more stable and democratic "you won't have demonstrations of that kind." said...I thought...Democ...Oh forget it. Someone wake me in 2008.

(hat tip to Oz's finest)

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