Can This Marriage Be Saved?

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Bush Administration, Condi Rice, Middle East, War on Terror

I got up this morning looking forward to wallowing in the Lamont victory (I know there’s a big challenge ahead, but we get so little to wallow in; enjoy, I say). I had also planned to float the speculation that the Lieberman team deliberately sabotaged their own web site because they knew they were losing, and Joe wanted an excuse. An unfair primary gives him a moral basis on which to challenge the election results.

But then I read this from the Washington Times supplement Insight:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has become increasingly dismayed over President Bush’s support for Israel to continue its war with Hezbollah.

State Department sources said Ms. Rice has been repeatedly stymied in her attempts to pressure Israel to end strikes against Hezbollah strongholds in Lebanon. The sources said the secretary’s trip to the Middle East last week was torpedoed by the Israeli air strike of a Lebanese village in which 25 people were killed.

“I’ve never seen her so angry,” an aide said.

The U.S. response to the Israeli-Hezbollah war was said to have divided both the administration as well as the family of President George W. Bush. At the same time, it marked the first time since Ms. Rice became secretary of state that the president has overruled her.

Yesterday I speculated that the President had tuned out the Middle East because he doesn’t give a shit. But maybe he does give a shit. Or else the cluster bombing of civilians reminds him of his wholesome Texas childhood and the exploding frogs.

“We were terrible to animals,” recalled [Bush pal Terry] Throckmorton, laughing. A dip behind the Bush borne turned into a small lake after a good rain, and thousands of frogs would come out. “Everybody would get BB guns and shoot them,” Throckmorton said. “Or we’d put firecrackers in the frogs and throw them and blow them up.”

Kristof made plain that “we” explicitly included George W. Bush, and that George W., the Safari Club International Governor of the Year in 1999 for his support of trophy hunting, was the leader among the boys who did it.

I think I read somewhere that children get their first lessons in conflict resolution from playing with other children. But now let’s go back to Insight:

“For the last 18 months, Condi was given nearly carte blanche in setting foreign policy guidelines,” a senior government source familiar with the issue said. “All of a sudden, the president has a different opinion and he wants the last word.”

The disagreement between Mr. Bush and Ms. Rice is over the ramifications of U.S. support for Israel’s continued offensive against Lebanon. The sources said Mr. Bush believes that Israel’s failure to defeat Hezbollah would encourage Iranian adventurism in neighboring Iraq. Ms. Rice has argued that the United States would be isolated both in the Middle East and Europe at a time when the administration seeks to build a consensus against Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

Instead, Ms. Rice believes the United States should engage Iran and Syria to pressure Hezbollah to end the war with Israel. Ms. Rice has argued that such an effort would result in a U.S. dialogue with Damascus and Tehran on Middle East stability.

It occurs to me that this article may be part of the neocon’s scheme to scapegoat and marginalize Condi for being a stick-in-the-mud. Sidney Blumenthal wrote last week that the Bush Administration’s neoconservative insiders are eager to “widen the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah and Israel and Hamas into a four-front war,” and Condi isn’t helping:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is said to have been “briefed” and to be “on board,” but she is not a central actor in pushing the covert neoconservative scenario. Her “briefing” appears to be an aspect of an internal struggle to intimidate and marginalize her. Recently she has come under fire from prominent neoconservatives who oppose her support for diplomatic negotiations with Iran to prevent its development of nuclear weaponry.

Rice’s diplomacy in the Middle East has erratically veered from initially calling on Israel for “restraint,” to categorically opposing a cease-fire, to proposing terms for a cease-fire guaranteed to conflict with the European proposal, and thus to thwarting diplomacy, prolonging the time available for the Israeli offensive to achieve its stated aim of driving Hezbollah out of southern Lebanon. But the neocon scenario extends far beyond that objective to pushing Israel into a “cleansing war” with Syria and Iran, says the national security official, which somehow will redeem Bush’s beleaguered policy in the entire region.

Last month Insight published an article titled “Dump Condi” that is riddled with dire warnings about accommodation and appeasement. Real Men don’t accommodate; they dictate. The neocons complain that Rice’s “ignorance of the Middle East” is hindering U.S. foreign policy. They expect Rice to be “transferred” after the November midterms, because by that time by that time “even Mr. Bush will recognize the failure of relying solely on diplomacy in the face of Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”

Right now it’s hard to know exactly what Mr. Bush’s recognizes. Fred Kaplan writes in Slate that Bush doesn’t seem to understand his own foreign policy. Writing of Monday’s “presser” (in which Condi expressed her solicitous concern for the emotional problems of the Lebanese), Kaplan writes,

The transcript contains so many mind-boggling statements that it’s hard to know where to begin, so let’s take them in chronological order.

“Everybody wants the violence to stop,” Bush said in answer to the session’s first question. But of course this isn’t true. If it were, he could have imposed a cease-fire in the first few days. He and Rice explicitly wanted the violence to continue, wanted Israel to pummel Hezbollah, so that when the time was ripe for a settlement, Israel could come to the table with a huge advantage.

Then Bush made a statement that curiously veered off script: “People understand that there needs to be a cessation of hostilities in order for us to address the root causes of the problem.” This contradicted Rice’s mantra of the last two weeks—that there should be no cessation until these root causes are addressed. Did he understand what he was saying? Everybody skipped over it in any case.

And on and on. I urge you to read the entire Kaplan column. I may come back to it in another post. But there’s some more juicy stuff in the new Insight article about the spat between Condi and George. You’ll like this:

Mr. Bush’s position has been supported by Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and to a lesser extent National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley. They have urged the president to hold off international pressure and give Israel more time to cause strategic damage to Hezbollah as well as Iranian and Syrian interests in Lebanon.

“I think if you think of what’s happening in Lebanon and Israel right now, you see the face of the beginning of the 21st century,” Mr. Rumsfeld said in a radio interview on Aug. 2.

Wait, it gets better.

Aides for Mr. Cheney have argued that the United States should have targeted Hezbollah and Syria during the war against Iraq in 2003. They said despite U.S. intelligence warnings Hezbollah was allowed to dominate Lebanon and build a formidable force along the Israeli border.

“There was talk of taking care of Hezbollah and Syria, but Condi and [then-Secretary of State Colin] Powell said ‘no way. We don’t need another front,'” an official said.

Oblivious doesn’t even get close to describing these people. They are lost in their own shit. John Williams writes about the neocon worldview on The Guardian web site:

One of the most interesting things I did as Jack Straw’s press secretary was to arrange the meeting between some of his Muslim constituents and Condoleezza Rice. That day in Blackburn last March came to mind when I saw the extraordinary suggestion that Straw might have been removed from the Foreign Office because the US administration thought he was too influenced by Muslim opinion in the town.

I say “extraordinary” not because I think it’s inaccurate but because it takes extreme mental gymnastics to conceive how anyone could believe it to be a bad thing to listen to and understand Muslim points of view. I’ve no idea whether the story is true. Under our unwritten constitution, nobody tells you why your competent, creative, diligent, honest, thoughtful boss of five years has suddenly been defenestrated.

The point about this story is that it is taken seriously. And it should be, because of its original source – Irwin Stelzer. An adviser to Rupert Murdoch, Stelzer is part of the commentating class in the US that glorifies itself with the title neoconservative. I’ve never quite understood the neoconservative worldview, except that its evidential base is their own prejudice, and its prescriptions are built on the world as they would like it to be, rather than as it is.

Some of them – for example, William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard – actually believe that Iranians would welcome a military attack on their country by America, taking their cue to rise up against their leaders. Again, it takes advanced mental gymnastics.

Nah, “mental gymnastics” doesn’t get there. It’s more like the neocons are so full of themselves they displace the rest of the universe. Reality is put through so many filters of ego-centrism and bigotry in a neocon’s head that it dissipates before it can reach consciousness. A neocon literally cannot see anything else in the world but himself. Wherever he looks, he sees only the shining reflection of his own bigotries and ideologies and pathologies scowling back at him.

[UPDATE: See also Robert Scheer, “Why We Don’t Know Our Enemy.” Outstanding.]

But I keep wandering away from the Insight article. We’re almost done. In fact, here’s the punch line:

Mr. Bush has been dismayed by the Israeli failure to defeat Hezbollah. They said several high-ranking Republicans have expressed amazement at the plodding Israeli advance into Lebanon.

“One Jewish friend of Bush actually called up a senior Israeli official and began yelling, ‘What the hell’s going on here,'” a source said. “‘Are you going to fight or what?'”

I love it that a friend of Bush who is, it seems, neither an elected or appointed government official takes it on himself to dictate policy to another nation. Grand.

Warren Strobel and Carol Rosenberg of McClatchy Newspapers (formerly known as Knight Ridder) write that Israel is preparing to expand the ground war in Lebanon. Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora begs Washington Post readers to “End This Tragedy Now.” And in Salon, Mitchell Prothero writes in “Bombs Over Beirut” that once pro-Western Lebanese are rapidly becoming Hezbollah supporters. Juan Cole has news of the fighting over the past few hours.

I’m going to wallow for awhile now. Catch ya later.

Update: See also Scott Ritter, “The Grave Consequences of Supporting War in Lebanon“; Thomas Friedman, “Warren Buffet and Hezbollah

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14 Comments

13 Comments

  1. wmr  •  Aug 9, 2006 @10:37 am

    That last anecdote about a Jewish friend of Bush’s calling Israel reminds me of the article in NYRB June 8 The Truth About “The Israel Lobby”. Michael Massing says that AIPAC has repeatedly acted to reduce the options for diplomatic resolutions of Israel’s problems. Just as Americans of Irish descent kept the IRA going, rich Jews who support an expansionist Israel keep stirring the pot in the Middle East.

    Note that I am aware that not all Jews are rich and that not all of the rich Jews support an expansionist Israel. But there are rich Jews who do and who use their money to that end.

  2. merciless  •  Aug 9, 2006 @12:01 pm

    maha, once again you bring all the good stuff. I’d been wondering about this; we know that Cheney and Rummy despise the State department in general, and have been sabotaging Condi’s efforts. But until now I was under the impression that Bush still listened to his office wife. But no more, I guess.

    So what’s the end game? Use Israeli troops to invade, and when we run out of them, start dropping the nukes? Turn the entire ME into a parking lot? Do they really think people are going to stand aside, flowers in hand, and let them do that?

    I read some rumors yesterday that BP’s sudden shutdown of the oil pipeline in Alaska was done at the request of Tony Blair, to show Bush that he has a lot to lose. But then I read that the administration figures they have enough oil in the strategic reserve to get over the bump if Iran cuts off their oil exports while we nuke them.

    These men are quite mad, aren’t they?

  3. MNPundit  •  Aug 9, 2006 @12:37 pm

    I do like to wonder who the neocons think will fight these wars. According to Wikipedia, there are about 170,000 Israeli Defence Force personnel, and they take up 9.4% of GDP. So again I ask, what army? The US Army? Again, WHAT army? How could we possibly fund it? Do they think these populations would rise up magically?

    I’d like to send them all over there…

    Also, I’d like to know what the Israeli official responded to the rich jewish Bush buddy caller. That would have been pretty interesting.

  4. cosette  •  Aug 9, 2006 @12:49 pm

    Thanks for writing about this. I came across this story on the HuffPo this morning and I thought it was very interesting. So you see… even the warmongering Condi Rice has the where-with-all to oppose what Isreal is doing.

    Wonder what Condi’s like when she’s good and mad?

    I wonder if she’s as mad as I’ve been about everything that this administration has done since it was supremely appointed?

  5. merciless  •  Aug 9, 2006 @1:14 pm

    Wonder what Condi’s like when she’s good and mad?

    Ineffectual, cosette. Neither Cheney nor Rumsfeld would be in the least intimidated by her. And if Bush tells her to shut her cakehole, she will.

    And after last night’s victory, they know they don’t have much time, so they’re going to push forward as fast as they can, and to hell with consequences.

  6. Steve M.  •  Aug 9, 2006 @2:07 pm

    On the defenestration of Jack Straw, see William Rees-Mogg in The Times of London; he thinks it’s possible that Condi is in a turf battle with Rumsfeld et al., who wanted Straw fired. (But also see this from The Mail on Sunday, which advances the theory that Condi turned against Straw.)

  7. Swami  •  Aug 9, 2006 @4:02 pm

    Scott Ritter’s piece is really powerful. He bears out my assumption that this whole “war on terra” bullshit is a joke. And it is America’s ignorance that’s fueling it. It was never more than a criminal act

    And I’m over the moon about Lieberman’s political chastisement. 🙂 I see it as a wake-up call to let the politicians know that the American people are pulling the plug on Iraq…it’s lost like Vietnam was and we need to get out. If my fantasy goes right, Bush. Rummy, Dick, Condi, and a whole lot more are going to have to answer some serious questions after November. Accountability—what a concept!

  8. Swami  •  Aug 9, 2006 @4:11 pm

    Wonder what Condi’s like when she’s good and mad?

    I bet she’s hot, like totally caliente, in an overseer sort of way…. especially if she’s wearing her knee high black leather boots

  9. merciless  •  Aug 9, 2006 @4:27 pm

    swami, they have no intention of being held accountable for anything. I’m honestly thinking that their new exit strategy for getting out of Iraq is to nuke Iran and Syria. If they do it soon enough, then they can have us all on a WWIII footing, and of course the country will rally ’round the flag (before November), as it has always done. Sure, we cowardly liberals will howl about it, but they’ll just use that to either dismiss us or actively prosecute us as traitors.

    Geez, I hope I’m wrong about this. But their actions make no logical sense, so I’m coming to the conclusion that their future actions will also be insane.

  10. Lynne  •  Aug 9, 2006 @5:03 pm

    Hmm. I wonder if she’ll end up quitting. Or maybe rolling over submissively is her style. How mad would she have to get?

  11. Somedaysoon  •  Aug 9, 2006 @7:24 pm

    Bush has always been very cavalier with others lives. However, he is especially careful with frozen cells in a petre dish, as long as they don’t grow up black, or poor, or middle class. He is the king of hypocrites. I noticed Bush kept prompting the war to continue between Lebanese and the Israelites. He is crazy as a loon.

  12. Craig  •  Aug 9, 2006 @7:41 pm

    Maha, thanks for the comprehensive post. The necons have completely succumbed to their delusions. Newt Gingrich talks seriously about his presidential ambitions and he’s totally caught up in world war three fever.

    I know there’s a lot of theories out there about what’s happening in the Middle East but I still come down to sheer incompetence and thirty years of right wing nonsense (even traditional conservatives are sounding brilliant in comparison).

    But here’s my take on the midterm elections. It’s not about the Middle East or Iraq, it’s about a failed presidency. If Americans want an incompetent, dishonest and reckless president to drag us into a third war after making a mess in Iraq with no end in sight, vote Republican. If it’s time to put the brakes on Bush’s foreign policy, to stop his lawbreaking both here and abroad, and to keep his recklessness in check, vote Democratic.

  13. Donna  •  Aug 9, 2006 @10:51 pm

    Thanks for all the links and analysis, Maha. I second Swami on Ritter’s great piece. This is the first time I have read anywhere that UN resolution 1559 does NOT name Huzbollah, but rather refers to ‘illegal militias’. Ritter is so right on about the spin and disinformation in America.

    When the Bush administration is infighting at the same time that Ned Lamond beats Joe, I’d say were in for a wild ride in the next few months. America is coming out of a stupor…… I hope.

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