In lieu of scripture, the reading today comes from Talking Heads “Once in a Lifetime”:
And you may ask yourself
What is that beautiful house?
And you may ask yourself
Where does that highway go?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right?…Am I wrong?
And you may tell yourself
MY GOD!…WHAT HAVE I DONE?
There’s an amusing irony in the fact that Henry Kissinger’s most important piece of advice to the Bush Administration is to avoid spreading panic! This from his interview with New Perspectives Quarterly’s Global View:
Kissinger: …We have to avoid the situation where the moderate states panic, and we have to create a balance. We can’t avoid it.
GV: You mean a balance within Iraq or a balance regionally?
Kissinger: Regionally and therefore within Iraq. You can’t get a balance within Iraq if you don’t have a balance regionally.
GV: Do you think the president and the vice president have absorbed these lessons?
Kissinger: (Long pause.) I have been comfortable talking to the president about my ideas. Of course, as long as one thought we were winning, and as long as he was told he was winning, he had every reason to pursue the recommended strategy. I’m convinced that the president will do what is best for the nation.
GV: Is he still being told we’re winning?
Kissinger: I don’t know. I can’t judge that. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that what we’re seeing now would be an odd appearance for a victory.
But it’s hard to persuade the U.S.-allied Arab regimes not to panic when new signs of panic and confusion emerge every day in Washington. So, as the LA Times reports, the Administration seems to have taken Kissinger’s advice and launched a series of initiatives to calm the fears of its allies in the region, but has instead deepened them.
But instead of flaunting stronger ties and steadfast American influence, the president’s journey found friends both old and new near a state of panic. Mideast leaders expressed soaring concern over upheavals across the region that the United States helped ignite through its invasion of Iraq and push for democracy — and fear that the Bush administration may make things worse.
President Bush’s summit in Jordan with the Iraqi prime minister proved an awkward encounter that deepened doubts about the relationship. Vice President Dick Cheney’s stop in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, yielded a blunt warning from the kingdom’s leaders. And Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s swing through the West Bank and Israel, intended to build Arab support by showing a new U.S. push for peace, found little to work with.
In all, visits designed to show the American team in charge ended instead in diplomatic embarrassment and disappointment, with U.S. leaders rebuked and lectured by Arab counterparts. The trips demonstrated that U.S. allies in the region were struggling to understand what to make of the difficult relationship, and to figure whether, with a new Democratic majority taking over Congress, Bush even had control over his nation’s Mideast policy.
Indeed, simply following the media traffic, its hard to imagine anyone in control of the policy, for the simple reason that there doesn’t seem to be a policy.
The Rumsfeld memo leaked to the New York Times is but the latest in a series of contradictory prescriptions coming from the heart of the Administration. (Rumsfeld seemed as giddily detached as ever, advocating the use of financial sanctions and troop redeployments to scare the Iraqis into “pulling their socks up” — and as Juan Cole noted, there’s something pretty macabre about the U.S. defense secretary advocating that Washington follow Saddam Hussein’s playbook for governance by buying off Iraqi tribal and religious leaders. (Then again, Rummy was the Reagan Administration’s point man in dealing with Saddam.)
If Rumsfeld is all over the map, Bush’s national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, has been demanding that Shiite-coalition head Nuri al-Maliki be reinvented as Iyad Allawi, to head a secular-Kurdish-Sunni alliance (perhaps nobody told Hadley that Allawi and the other Iraqi leaders who were partial to such schemes have all quietly moved back to London). Meanwhile, the State Department seems to be advocating the U.S. making common cause with the Shiites, doing exactly the opposite of what Hadley is suggesting. Bush will be told this week by the Baker group that the U.S. needs to begin redeploying troops away from the cities, and also by the Pentagon (with the backing of the likes of Senator John McCain) that the U.S. needs to increase its troop presence in Baghdad to restore control over the capital.
But they certainly seem willing to try anything:
President Bush on Monday will host Abdulaziz al-Hakim at the White House to discuss Iraq: Hakim is the leader of the largest single party in the ruling Shiite alliance (the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq), has his own militia (the Badr Corps) which has been implicated in sectarian bloodletting and is considered even closer to Iran than Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki (of the smaller Dawa party). Hard to see what the U.S. hopes to get out of the meeting, although they may be looking at Hakim’s fierce, occasionally even deadly rivalry with Moqtada Sadr as a useful wedge. Some reports suggested Bush would ask Hakim to support Maliki ditching Sadr. (Why does one struggle, so, to imagine these Shiite leaders who are far closer by history and outlook to Tehran than Washington, suddenly agreeing to follow U.S. guidelines? They’ll certainly do so from time to time, but only when it suits their own narrow power agendas.)
This is certainly getting interesting. And it’s hardly surprising that Arab allies whose own survival depends on Washington’s success are panicking…