BushCo – Failing at Diplomacy

And lest there be any misunderstanding, also failing at everything else they touch. Colin Powell as secretary of state was a failure because he was brow-beaten and hog-tied. Condi Rice is a failure because she is a toady.

Condi’s Free Ride: The Fantasy of American Diplomacy in the Middle East
By Tony Karon

They must serve up some pretty powerful Kool Aid in the press room down at Foggy Bottom, judging by U.S. media coverage of Condi Rice’s latest “Look Busy” tour of the Middle East.

Secretary of State Rice’s comings and goings have long been greeted with a jaded disdain by the Arab and Israeli media. As Gideon Levy wrote plaintively (and typically) in Israel’s Haaretz last August,

“Rice has been here six times in the course of a year and a half, and what has come of it? Has anyone asked her about this? Does she ask herself? It is hard to understand how the secretary of state allows herself to be so humiliated. It is even harder to understand how the superpower she represents allows itself to act in such a hollow and useless way. The mystery of America remains unsolved: How is it that the United States is doing nothing to advance a solution to the most dangerous and lengthiest conflict in our world?”

The fact that — this time — Rice professes to be advancing just such a solution has hardly convinced Middle Eastern scribes. As Beirut’s secular, liberal Daily Star put it in an editorial on Monday, “Already this is Rice’s fourth Middle East tour aimed at reactivating a stalled peace process, but so far the only measurable progress she has achieved has been racking up extra mileage on her airplane.”

Mainstream U.S. media outlets were alone in their willingness to swallow the preposterous narratives offered by Rice’s State Department spinners on the significance of her latest diplomatic efforts. For months, we have been reading a fantasy version of American diplomacy in which Rice was at the center of a realignment of forces in the Middle East, building a united front of Arab moderates to stand alongside the U.S. and Israel against Iran and other “extremist” elements. Last week, we were asked to believe that Rice was now about to head back to the region to choreograph a complex and dramatic diplomatic dance that would include such “challenges” as “trying to get the Saudis to talk to the Israelis.” Perhaps none of her aides bothered to let her in on the open secret that the Saudis have been doing that for months — and not under the tutelage of, or at the prompting of, the Secretary of State either.

On the eve of her departure, the Washington Post informed us, Rice would remake the peace process via a new math: 4+2+4. This was cute jargon for grouping various discussions among the Israelis and Palestinians, the “Quartet” (the U.S., the European Union, the UN, and Russia), and an “Arab Quartet” comprising Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates. By Monday, only three days later, however, the new math had mysteriously disappeared — as if Rice had suddenly entered a world of innumeracy — replaced by “parallel discussions.” With the Israelis unwilling to talk to the Palestinians about the “contours of a Palestinian state,” each side was instead to discuss such things separately with Rice in a kind of diplomatic confession booth.

For anyone disappointed by the sudden demise of “4+2+4,” Condi assured all involved that “we’ll use many different geometries, I’m sure, as we go through this process.” A day later, the trip’s crowning achievement was reported by the New York Times: “After three days of shuttle diplomacy between Israeli and Arab cities and a late night of haggling, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Tuesday that she had persuaded Israeli and Palestinian leaders to hold talks twice a month.” But not, it turned out, on the “final-status issues” — the contours of a Palestinian state. They would simply chat to “build confidence,” while, presumably, regularly reentering her confession booth.

As Lebanon-based Jordanian journalist Rami Khouri put it,

“To overcome the chronic stalemate of bilateral Palestinian-Israeli diplomacy, [Rice] is now expanding this into a trilateral failure, as the principal parties who won’t talk to each other only to talk to her. It’s hard to decide if this is a comedy or a horror show.”

It may be a sign of the contempt with which the Bush administration treats the American media that Condi expects such a Pollyannaish pantomime to be reported as if it were history-in-the-making. And it may be a mark of the naiveté with which much of the U.S. media has, over these last years, chronicled Condi’s adventures that, in fact, it is reported as if it were history-in-the-making. The Secretary of State has not only chalked up the miles in the air recently, in media terms here in the U.S., she’s invariably been given a free ride.

Read the rest here.

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