To know, know, know her is to love, love, love her. Condi Rice just laid out the most transparent, nakedly comprehensive foreign policy since Andrew Jackson told Kit Carson to go West and kill every Indian he saw.* Writer David Ignatius has a chat with her and surfaces some quotes from it. Not to put too fine a point on it, Ignatius is a transmission device for national intelligence, and in "Rice's Strategic Reset," he gives her room to unwind and bask in the effects of her recent policy efforts. Bottom line, Condi is feeling pretty good about how the Mid-East is shaping up, and is ready for her Nobel Peace Prize.
There does appear to be progress at first glance. The US has been breathlessly explaining the threat posed by Iran to nations in the region, and has pimped the benefits of forming a coalition of NATO, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Israel to contain Khomeini's Islamic Revolution. Choosing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as the primary battering ram is natural, since it has been expanding membership steadily eastwards over the last decade to keep Russia in its place. Now NATO is conducting joint operations with Israel and Pakistan, and the US wants to induct both as full knights of the realm, even though they're a looong way from the North Atlantic. NATO as the security apparatus explains why there are British and German naval vessels presently patrolling off Beirut backing a Christian politician in Lebanon. Here is why Condi finally had a good hair day:
The administration's tougher stance against Iran arguably has already produced some results. Iran's firebrand president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, appears to be in political trouble with the ruling mullahs, in part because his reckless talk alienated other Muslims. But the strongest leverage against Iran appears to be the West's unified diplomatic coalition. "The Security Council resolution [condemning Iran's nuclear program and mandating mild sanctions] has had more of an effect than I thought it would," Rice said.The UN Security Council Resolution against Iran's nuclear ambitions was a Dance of the Seven Veils, useful for amusement and distraction. Much as I love Condi, if she thinks China or Russia will enforce any of the Resolution's specifics, her head's not right. Iran has reined in the rhetoric of its President because it wins by waiting. Allow me to translate Condi's Miss Universe acceptance speech: by promising to maintain the status quo and apportioning future slices of the oil pie, the US feels it can move natural enemies to rapprochement and contain the Persian Plague they all hate. The State Department took the basic building block defined by the Iraq Study Group and started off by saying, "We can all agree that the specter of Iran with nukes is a bad idea, right?"
Well...no. The "we" in question can't agree, not even on that. This realignment, reset, whatever you want to call it (regurgitation?) is built on flimsy, flammable gauze because it ignores one key ISG recommendation, one uncomfortable reality, and one looming, incredibly telling and stupid contradiction.
First, the ISG recommendation it ignores is the necessity to engage Syria and Iran. Here is Her Bad Self on the subject:
In other words, the US blames Iran and Syria for Israel's defeat in Lebanon. This is funny-ha-ha. Didn't Israel first invade Lebanon, then get its ass kicked? It's not like Iran gave Hezbollah fighter planes to bomb Tel Aviv. Condi's plan assumes that Sunnis hate Shiites enough to be divided and conquered along an Iranian fault line. But the US is supporting Sunnis against Shiites, and vice-versa. Pitting tribal peoples against one another is a proven method for disuniting them, true, but the US is supporting Sunnis against Shiites in Lebanon and Afghanistan, then simultaneously supporting Shiites against Sunnis in Iraq. If I can notice the forked tongue flicking, the Saudis and the Pakis can, too. The "Reset" also ignores the fundamentally important fact that Iranian-style self-determination offers a better political solution to the peoples of the Mid-east than we do. It offers a way to balance Islam, parliamentary nationalism, and social modernism. They've got a better formula. That's why they're winning.
The Bush administration's thinking about realignment helps explain why it has resisted engaging Syria and Iran, as recommended by the Baker-Hamilton report. As Rice put it, "You have a 'pan' movement, across the region. The war in Lebanon crystallized it for everyone. You can't just leave it there. . . . If you concentrate on engaging Syria and Iran, you may lose the chance to do the realignment."
Second, the uncomfortable reality of Israel pollutes everything in the Mid-east. As the article states, the plan relies on peace between Palestine and Israel...later. Israel isn't getting out of Palestine. There is not even the slightest demonstration of an Israeli quid pro quo, and from Detroit to Jakarta, Palestine is a potent symbol for the West's oppression of Arabs and muslims. So you have to wonder where the optimism...oh, right...there is civil war blossoming amongst "the natives" in Lebanon and Palestine, and Condi can pat herself on the back for just having given billions of dollars to sow them (Sinoria and the Sunnis vs. Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas vs. Fatah in Palestine). So there's the old colonial divide-and-conquer fallback, but there are limits to how much to rely on that tendency. If I recall correctly, Saudis and Pakis were dancing in the streets when Israel was beaten in Lebanon. Of course, I could be wrong, because staunch allies would never do that.
Finally, there is an internal contradiction which shoots this plan through the head like a 7.62mm AK-47 bullet: if democracy spreads in the region any further, the administration might have to turn it into a parking lot to make it cooperate. When Islamic people vote, they elect Islamic democracies. Get it, Condi? That's where the trouble is coming from in Lebanon, and Palestine, and Iraq! It's BECAUSE they held elections, you preposterous fools!!
And elsewhere, where Islamic people can't vote, they're losing patience faster than they would've if the region had remained democracy-free. Getting very grumpy, in fact. For example, the Musharraf regime in Pakistan will be lucky to last another year before it falls to the generals, whose troops are largely Taliban sympathizers. When Taliban fighters cross the Pakistan border and head into Afghanistan to make attacks, they go through the border checkpoints manned by Pakistani soldiers, and these soldiers lift the gates and say, "Happy hunting, brothers! Bring us the head of an English-man!" Inviting Pakistan into NATO makes about as much sense as inviting Osama bin Laden to sleep in Lincoln's Bedroom. But then maybe that would make sense, because if Pakistan or Saudi Arabia have democratic elections, they'd both elect Osama as President.
Honestly, I think Condi is doing pretty well with a bad hand and doing a glorious job (as usual) of lying her ass off. The Realignment makes perfect sense within the philosophically institutional straitjacket of the Bush Administration. All the US can do is forestall its eclipse in the region for an intermission. The Faisal royal family will soon retreat from Saudi Arabia into cushioned exile, and the Bin Laden family will openly rule what it already runs: a pan-Arabic Islamic coalition. And then Iran, because its social revolution offers a better template for livable, prosperous compromise between Islam and modernism, will become dominant in the region over Saudi wahabism, which, socially, represents a return to medieval feudalism. Iran has already won politically, and the US would be far more effective in its diplomacy and its wars if it recognized that fact. Apparently, it would rather back unsteady allies propped athwart failing regimes, give them a make-over, strut, and hope for the best.