Friday, December 15, 2006

The Secretary of State: Competence, Incompetence and a Dose of Hypocrisy

It's interesting to watch the various figures of the Bush Administration continue to talk as if anyone still talks their nonsense seriously. The bipartisan Iraq Study Group (5 Republicans, 5 Democrats) led by Republican James Baker has shattered any remaining illusions that we're winning in Iraq or that 'staying the course' is somehow going to work. 'Staying the course' has been repackaged so many times by the Bush team that everyone now recognizes it as the clunker it so obviously is. And every time Bush comes up with a new reason why we're in Iraq, after the latest reason has fallen apart, it just makes everybody's eyes roll.

It was ludicrous to hear Dick Cheney describe Donald Rumsfeld as the greatest Secretary of Defense ever and I intended to write about that until I came across a few things Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had to say. Here's the story by Reuters on Yahoo News:
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has rejected a bipartisan panel's recommendation that the Bush administration engage Syria and Iran in efforts to stabilize Iraq, The Washington Post reported on Friday.

The "compensation" required for any such deal might be too high, Rice told the paper in an interview.

Rice said she did not want to trade away Lebanese sovereignty to Syria or allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon as a price for peace in Iraq, the Post reported.

She also argued that neither Syria nor Iran should need incentives to help achieve stability in Iraq, the Post reported.

"If they have an interest in a stable Iraq, they will do it anyway," Rice said.

The bipartisan Iraq Study Group included talks with Iran and Syria among its key recommendations it presented to the White House last week for dealing with the worsening chaos in Iraq.

Oh, where to begin! When Rice talks about the notions that Syria and Iran 'should not need incentives to help achieve stability in Iraq,' she omits that both countries sought to improve relations early in the Bush's first term and were actually helpful in dealing with al Qaida. But they were rebuffed by President Bush on more than one occassion early on.

In addition, Bush has vaguely threatened military action against Syria and Iran and Bush's friends on the far right have been even more vocal, even going so far as to call for the use of nuclear weapons against Iran; much of Bush's attitude seems based on an idea of Syria and Iran that goes back ten to thirty years instead of dealing in the terms of this era.

If Bush or Condi Rice are serious about real negotiations, they have to back off one or two steps from a threat posture and then knock off the phony preconditions for talks. In addition, Bush has yet to declare to the Iraqis that we do intend to leave, and sooner than later.

By sending more troops, Bush is likely to increase the tensions in the Middle East; he has sent more troops in the past without result and there is nothing to suggest that this time he has some answers to his fiasco. Just to be clear, let me be blunt for a moment: our military could kill 2 million Iraqis in the next year and it would not change the outcome; if anything, it would potentially lead to a broad regional war. Too many blunders have been made. At this point, we don't need a military solution so much as we need a political solution. Political solutions require talks. Political talks require the full use of all our foreign policy tools. Those tools have been neglected or poorly used in the past six years. There are dozens of qualified people, even qualified Republicans, who are waiting for their talents to be used. It's time for Bush and Condi Rice to utilize them.

The main problem I have with Condi Rice is her arrogant incompetence. As the national security adviser to Bush, she missed the terrorist threat from al Qaida and the broader stateless terrorism problem. And even before she became Secretary of State, she was personally doing a poor job of improving relations with Russia, an area she's supposed to be an expert on. Then, this last summer, instead of working hard and long to defuse the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, she went to the Middle East to give, of all things, a piano recital! Her blather about not giving away some of Lebanon's sovereignty is a ridiculous straw man as an objection to serious negotiations with Syria, and it's unhelpful that she even talks like that; but it's important to note that Bush's unwilling to defuse this summer's mini-war did far more serious damage to Lebanon than any concession regarding Lebanon that might conceivably be given to Syria, and the Lebanese are not happy about it.

I'm a Democrat with certain principles and I won't pretend that James Baker was perfect but he was a successful Secretary of State and was far more competent than Dr. Rice; for her to dismiss the analysis and advice of the Iraq Study Group suggests she's just as delusional as the president. When you're in trouble, when you have almost no accomplishments to your name, it's time to lose the arrogance. Rumsfeld may be gone but Republicans in Congress should think long and hard about continuing to support Bush, Cheney and Rice. The members of the Bush inner circle are in danger of going from reckless incompetence to a sullen ideological stubbornness that will continue to do enormous damage to our nation in the continued pursuit of a war that we all know was optional. The excuses, the posturing and the blame need to come to an end.

The voters sent a powerful message to Bush in November and it's not clear that he's gotten the message. As long as Bush has the veto, there is a limit to what Democrats can do in the next two years. Two years is a long time. Not many Americans fully understand it yet, but our nation is in crisis. Unless Bush changes course in a serious way instead of pursuing the same failed foreign policy, we're heading for a deeper crisis; instead of admitting their blunders, some neocons and right wingers are insisting on a broader war despite the fact they haven't been right about very much.

If you're up to your waist in quicksand, it's time to stop digging. Bush's foreign policy experiment is a failure. It's time to return to the more successful policies of the last sixty years, the policies in fact that made us the leader of the free world and therefore strong.

Condi Rice's loyalty to the president would be admirable if Bush were running a small company somewhere, but her loyalty is hurting the nation. If she can't face Bush's failures, she needs to resign. Or she needs to face the facts and talk to the president. Simply put, it's time for Bush to pull back from the abyss. If he won't do it, Congress must exert its constitutional responsibilities.

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Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

Policy-wise, I suspect Rice knew exactly what the rules were when she took the job. After all, she had plenty of time and access to see what was being done with Colin Powell.

Rice might get to be the architect of U.S. policy toward Kazakhstan and South Africa, but when it comes to the Mideast, the massas in the White House are the ones being paid to think and decide. Specifically, Rice's portfolio ends wherever Bush, Cheney and Rove decide theirs begins.

I think you accurately touched on Rice's capacity for arrogant incompetence. Whether she could ever make an effective fully functioning secretary of state is something we'll probably never know.

3:42 PM  
Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

BTW, Madeleine Albright was on Charlie Rose's show the other night. What a gratifying source of clear thinking, sound knowledge and clean, straight talk she is.

3:46 PM  
Blogger Craig said...

S.W., I caught Albright as well. What a contrast!

5:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a Conservative; but Condeleezza Rice is INCOMPETENT. I could not believe it when i heard her say the following in her testimony before the 9/11 Commision in April 2004.

"As to some of the questions concerning the Saudis: I think that we have had, really, very good cooperation with Saudi Arabia since 9-11, and since the May 12th attacks on Riyadh even greater cooperation, because Saudi Arabia is I think fully enlisted in the war on terrorism. And we need to understand that there were certain things that we didn't even understand were going on inside the United States."

I have never heard anyone in the media call her out on that testimony.

She also demonstrated incompetence with regards to the uranium-Iraq allegations in the State of the Union speech & contradictory warnings from the CIA.

10:40 AM  

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