A few days ago Sen. John Kerry is reported to have said of the conflagration in Lebanon, “If I was president, this wouldn’t have happened.”
I doubt this is an accurate quote, if only because I think Kerry would have used present subjunctive correctly even in casual conversation — If I WERE president, this wouldn’t have happened. Further, the only reports I have found of this quote have come from right-wing columnists and blogs. I suspect some righties got hold of something Kerry said (in a bar, it’s reported), stripped it of context and tweaked the content, so that they could make fun of him for something he didn’t actually say.
But today on The Guardian web site Jonathan Freedland makes a pretty good case that had George W. Bush never become president (past perfect subjunctive, alas), this wouldn’t have happened (emphasis added):
Had one of the key players in the drama behaved differently, this entire mess could have been avoided.
I’m thinking of the United States. It’s fashionable to blame the US for all the world’s ills, but in this case the sins, both of omission and commission, of the Bush administration genuinely belong at the heart of the trouble.
Diplomacy has had a difficult task from the start, in part because the US is not seen as an honest broker, but as too closely aligned with Israel. Washington has long been pro-Israel, but under President Clinton and the first President Bush there was an effort to be seen as a plausible mediator. Not under George W. Far from keeping lines of communication open with Hizbullah’s two key patrons – Syria and Iran – they have been cast into outer darkness, branded as spokes, or satellites, of the axis of evil. As a result there has been no mechanism to restrain Hizbullah. Now, when the US needs Syria’s help, it may be too late. Damascus will extract a high price, no doubt demanding the right to re-enter, in some form, Lebanon. The White House can’t grant that – not when it considers Syria’s ejection from Lebanon in 2005 one of its few foreign-policy successes.
But the record of failure goes deeper than that. It began in the president’s first week, when Bush decided he would not repeat what he perceived as his predecessor’s mistake by allowing his presidency to be mired in the fruitless search for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Even though Clinton had got tantalisingly close, Bush decided to drop it. While Henry Kissinger once racked up 24,230 miles in just 34 days of shuttle diplomacy, Bush’s envoys have been sparing in their visits to the region.
The result is that the core conflict has been allowed to fester. Had it been solved, or even if there had been a serious effort to solve it, the current crisis would have been unimaginable. Instead, Bush’s animating idea has been that the peoples of the Middle East can be bombed into democracy and terrorised into moderation. It has proved one of the great lethal mistakes of his abominable presidency – and the peoples of Israel and Lebanon are paying the price.
Thomas Friedman (New York Times) goes into more detail (Note: We’re switching from Freedland to Friedman; emphasis added):
One wonders what planet Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice landed from, thinking she can build an international force to take charge in south Lebanon without going to Damascus and trying to bring the Syrians on board. …
… Can we get the Syrians on board? Can we split Damascus from Tehran? My conversations here suggest it would be very hard, but worth a shot. It is the most important strategic play we could make, because Syria is the bridge between Iran and Hezbollah. But it would take a high-level, rational dialogue.
And, as you know, Bushies don’t do high-level, rational dialogue. Bushies do strutting and saber rattling and tantrums.
Dr. Rice says we can deal with Syria through normal diplomatic channels. Really?
Weâ€™ve withdrawn our ambassador from Damascus, and the U.S. diplomats left here are allowed to meet only the Foreign Ministryâ€™s director of protocol, whose main job is to ask how you like your Turkish coffee. Syriaâ€™s ambassador in Washington is similarly isolated.
Let’s review: What was it that President Bush said at the G8 summit while he chewed on his buttered roll?
“See the irony is that what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this (expletive) and it’s over,” Bush told Blair as he chewed on a buttered roll.
He told Blair he felt like telling U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who visited the gathered leaders, to get on the phone with Syrian President Bashar Assad to “make something happen.” He suggested Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice might visit the region soon.
Even the Child in Chief recognizes that Syria is critical to any resolution. But he won’t talk to Syria. Our State Department won’t talk to Syria. Instead, Kofi Annan is supposed to talk to Syria. Or maybe the Saudis, as Laura Rozen reported earlier this week.
Friedman argues that splitting Syria from Iran would be a big job but not an impossible job. Syria and Iran have reason not to trust each other. “Syria is a largely secular country, with a Sunni majority. Its leadership is not comfortable with Iranian Shiite ayatollahs,” Friedman says.
Is this Syrian regime brutal and ruthless? You bet it is. If the Bush team wants to go to war with Syria, I get that. But the U.S. boycott of Syria is not intimidating Damascus. (Its economy is still growing, thanks to high oil prices.) So weâ€™re left with the worst of all worlds â€” a hostile Syria that is not afraid of us.
The Syrians are possibly a couple of shades brighter than American neocons. The Syrians must realize, even if William Kristol doesn’t, that our misadventure in Iraq limits our military options and makes us a whole lot less intimidating than we used to be. And since intimidation is the alpha and omega of the Bushies approach to diplomacy, the Bush White House has made itself impotent in the Middle East. Ironically, by over-relying on unilateral military power, both the U.S. and Israel have strengthened their enemies and weakened themselves. (See also “Syria Is Part of the Solution” by Faisal al Yafai.)
We need to get real on Lebanon. Hezbollah made a reckless mistake in provoking Israel. Shame on Hezbollah for bringing this disaster upon Lebanon by embedding its â€œheroicâ€ forces amid civilians. I understand Israelâ€™s vital need to degrade Hezbollahâ€™s rocket network. But Hezbollahâ€™s militia, which represents 40 percent of Lebanon, the Shiites, canâ€™t be wiped out at a price that Israel, or Americaâ€™s Arab allies, can sustain â€” if at all.
You canâ€™t go into an office in the Arab world today without finding an Arab TV station featuring the daily carnage in Lebanon. Itâ€™s now the Muzak of the Arab world, and it is toxic for us and our Arab friends.
Bush’s foreign policy is going to hurt us for generations to come, I fear. Righties seem to think that those of us who don’t support their military “solutions” don’t appreciate how dangerous our enemies are. But that’s not true. I do not doubt that Hezbollah is very nasty and dangerous, indeed. I’m against Bush’s deranged “foreign policy” because it’s not working. Yesterday I quoted Dennis Prager saying that support for Israel’s war separates the “indecent” Left from the “decent” Left. I say it separates those with a measurable IQ from those without. Or maybe those who are living in the real world from those who aren’t.
The Bush foreign policy, from coddling Pakistanâ€™s nuclear bomb-making to cheerleading Israelâ€™s attacks on the Gaza Strip and Lebanon, is in a free fall of such alarming consequence that it may be difficult to grasp.
Certainly that is the case for President Bush, who has been reduced to helplessly hoping the United Nations can get Syria â€œto stop doing this s—,â€ and for U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who blithely announced Monday that we are just watching the â€œbirth pangs of a new Middle East.â€
By Riceâ€™s logic, Hurricane Katrina was just the labor contractions of the new New Orleans. All the Mideast needs now, apparently, is a nice epidural and some ice chips to suck on.
Maureen Dowd describes a president who is utterly ineffectual but too deluded to know it:
The more things get complicated, the more W. feels vindicated in his own simplified vision. The more people try to tell him that itâ€™s not easy, that this is a region of shifting alliances and interests, the less he seems inclined to develop an adroit policy to win people over to our side instead of trying to annihilate them.
Bill Clinton, the Mutable Man par excellence, evolved four times a day; he had a tactical and even recreational attitude toward personal change. But W. prides himself on his changelessness and regards his immutability as the surest sign of his virtue. Facing a map on fire, he sees any inkling of change as the slippery slope to failure.
Thatâ€™s whatâ€™s so frustrating about watching him deal â€” or not deal â€” with Iraq and Lebanon. Thereâ€™s almost nothing to watch.
Itâ€™s not even like watching paint dry, since that, too, is a passage from one state to another. Itâ€™s like watching dry paint.
My friend is an old Middle East hand who has some good sources on the Israeli side, mostly ex-military and ex-Mossad, plus some contacts among the Bush I realist crowd — although of course they’re not in government any more either.
He didn’t have any secret dope on what the next military or diplomatic moves will be — it seems to be purely day-to-day now — but he DID get a clear sense that the Americans and the Israelis both understand now that they are in serious danger of losing the war.
They’re freaking out about this, of course, because they’re deathly afraid that if Israel is seen to fail, and fail badly, against Hizbullah, everybody and their Palestinian uncle will get it into their heads that they can take a crack at the Zionist entity. (The tough guy realists see this as a disaster in its own right; the “cry and shoot” gang frets the IDF will have to pound the West Bank and Gaza even harder to re-establish the balance of terror. Either way, it’s an unacceptable outcome.)
Plan B, then, is to try to “make something happen” on the ground — although what, exactly, isn’t clear. Today it was killing a low-level Hizbullah leader (in a border village they supposedly secured three days ago) and pumping him up as a big catch (shades of Zarqawi’s 28,000 “lieutenants”.) Tomorrow it will be something else — maybe the capture of the “terror capital” of south Lebanon, beautiful downtown Bint Jbeil.
The Big Finale:
If all this sounds familiar — the half-baked war plan, the unexpected setbacks, the frantic search for foreign legions, the lack of an exit strategy, the rising tide of blood — it certainly should. We’ve already seen this movie, in fact we’re still sitting through the last reel. It’s a hell of a time to release the sequel.
Righties scorn Senator Kerry’s alleged claim that the Hezbollah-Israeli war wouldn’t be happening if he had been president. Maybe; maybe not. By the time Kerry would have taken charge of foreign policy in 2005 much damage already was done. Hezbollah might have gone ahead with the provocation that started the war. On the other hand, Kerry’s Secretary of State would not have been Condi Rice.
However, I believe sincerely that had Al Gore become President in 2001, the Middle East would not be in flames now.
Today’s surreality: A Moonie Times publication says that Condi has highjacked Bush’s foreign policy.
Conservative national security allies of President Bush are in revolt against Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, saying that she is incompetent and has reversed the administrationâ€™s national security and foreign policy agenda.
It’s like they think the President actually had a foreign policy plan that Condi didn’t put in his head. Wow.
The criticism of Miss Rice has been intense and comes from a range of Republican loyalists, including current and former aides in the Defense Department and the office of Vice President Dick Cheney. They have warned that Iran has been exploiting Miss Rice’s inexperience and incompetence to accelerate its nuclear weapons program. They expect a collapse of her policy over the next few months.
Looks like the neocons see their policy coming apart and plan to pin the blame on Condi. She’s going to pay for their sins.
For any who are interested, David Ignatius explains what a rational policy might look like.