Thursday, January 25, 2007

Trudy Rubin: The News in the Middle East Is Not All Bad

Make no mistake: the situation in Iraq is bad. Even if the United States somehow manages to stabilize Iraq, we will have gained very little out of a very costly enterprise. If we don't stabilize Iraq, there is a real risk of wider conflict. But we have to be careful about the latest assertions coming out of Iraq (and probably the White House).

I saw New York Times reporter John Burns on Charlie Rose last night and found myself uneasy about how well Burns is reading the situation. He's been in Iraq for over four years and is one of the best reporters we've got. But I was struck by his pessimism about the situation and his belief that we have to try yet one more time to get it right because there is no other choice. I'm not sure I buy his reasoning and I'll save an analysis for another time. But I do buy, perhaps, Burns' assessment of the pessimism of our military and Bush Administration figures that a wider conflict may be very difficult to avoid (keeping in mind, of course, that the worst of the neocons want that conflict). No doubt working with Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush for four years will make just about anyone a pessimist. But that pessimism can rub off on reporters (and new secretaries of defense).

I suspect most reporters close to the action in the Middle East are increasingly uneasy about the disaster unfolding at the hands of Bush and Cheney and no one at this late date expects anything useful from those two. But Trudy Rubin of the Philadephia Inquirer (in the Times Herald-Record) points out that there are potential diplomatic possibilities:
...despite the Iraq gloom, some good news has emerged in recent days from the Middle East. The good news concerns Iran and Syria and points to an opening for a diplomatic process involving all of Iraq's neighbors.


First, the good news from Tehran. Iran's obnoxious President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is coming under harsh criticism from the highest authorities in Tehran. Contrary to Western perception, Ahmadinejad does not have either power to make foreign policy or control over Iran's nuclear program — powers that rest with Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Khamenei appears to be reconsidering Ahmadinejad's behavior; the ayatollah's newspaper has called on the president to stay out of all nuclear matters. Criticism in Iran's press and parliament has also focused on Ahmadinejad's economic failures. U.S. and U.N. sanctions make foreign investment scarce, including in Iran's oil fields. This puts the country's economic future at risk.

The pressure on Ahmadinejad signals that Iran is concerned about further economic and political isolation. That means the United States has strong cards to play in any talks.


There is also a bit of good news from Syria. Last week, news broke in Israel of a two-year-long "Track II" negotiations between a former Israeli foreign ministry director general and a Syrian-American businessman with key connections to the family of President Bashar al-Assad.


Neither Bush, nor Vice President Cheney, nor Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has given any hint of such thinking. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, however, once part of the Baker-Hamilton group, said last week, "Right at this moment, there's really nothing the Iranians want from us. We need some leverage, it seems to me, before we engage with the Iranians." He added, "I think at some point engagement probably makes sense."

I would argue the United States already has serious economic and political leverage with Iran and Syria. You can see this in the good news out of Iran and Syria.

But will the White House grasp the opening it presents?

There's no question some neocons are trying to sell a war with Iran just like they did with Iraq. But methods change and sometimes new angles are found for peddling war. I'm worried that the White House is propagating a very dangerous mythology at the moment that, aw shit, it's too bad there isn't really much we can do; that mythology is beginning to get some traction. It's the kind of language and 'attitude' that can set up a wider conflict that some in the White House want and that many right wing ideologues want. I don't expect much from Bush and Cheney given their rigid ideology and reckless pursuit of flawed assumptions, but possibilities and leverage still exist and no one should mistake for one moment where the responsibility lies if indeed a wider conflict explodes on the scene: in the Oval Office.

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Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

You're right on target once again.

I rate Rubin a gem. She has done some of the best reporting and commentary on the Mideast that I've seen.

12:58 AM  
Blogger Craig said...

S.W., you're right about Rubin. One of the distinctive qualities of the Bush Administration is how few inside the administration understand the Middle East and how many outside like Trudy Rubin, Juan Cole and Zbigniew Brzezinski are simply ignored despite having an accurate read time after time.

Despite their dismal record, there's no doubt that Bill Kristol and other neocons will be 'advising' the administration in the coming weeks in their odd echo chamber.

1:27 AM  

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