Sunday, August 06, 2006

Condi on MtP

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was the featured interview on today's NBC News Meet the Press. Host Tim Russert questioned Condi about the situation in Lebanon and the broader situation in the Middle East. To her credit, Condi pronounced Hezbollah better than most Americans. However, she echoed the administration's bizarre fantasies of the situation.


Tim Russert: Can there be any peace until the Hezbollah militia is destroyed?

Condoleezza Rice: Well, the one thing that all Lebanese agree with — perhaps all but Hezbollah — is that it cannot have the situation again that obtained when Hezbollah crossed the Blue Line, a kind of state-within-a-state, attacked Israel, abducted soldiers, and really plunged the entire country into war without even the knowledge — let alone the consent, not even the knowledge — of the Lebanese government. If you talk to the Lebanese, they're very focused on extending the authority of the Lebanese government throughout the country, of being able to bring Lebanese forces throughout the country, and making certain that any arms are going to be in the hands of just [only] the Lebanese government.
Everyone in Lebanon except Hezbollah agrees — that's a little like saying "everyone in Utah except the Mormons." Certainly the Lebanese government sees the necessity to have control of the de facto Lebanese armed forces in the hands of the government, but the people on the streets so far strongly support Hezbollah and its military campaign. Russert goes on a bit later to quote polls cited by Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, showing that 87% of the Lebanese people, including 80% of Lebanese Christians, support Hezbollah against Israel.
Russert: Do you believe Israel has shown the proper restraint?

Condi: I'm not going to try to judge each and every Israeli operation; I do know that Israel has the right to defend itself.
That's mostly a diplomatic non-answer, but the core point is that Russert did not ask her "to judge each and every Israeli operation." Condi was using a form of spin called a "straw man."
Russert: Many have suggested that the way to bring a permanent resolution to this crisis is to peel off Syria from Iran — Syria, a secular Sunni country; Iran, a Shi'ite country — and the way to do that is to talk directly to Syria. Richard Armitage, who was the top deputy to your predecessor Colin Powell at the State Department, said this — and he was the last senior official from the U.S. to talk to the government of Syria in 2004 — he said he "completely disagreed" with Secretary Rice's description of the conflict as "the birth pangs of a new Middle East." He said, "The administration has an irrational fear that talking is a sign of weakness. It is the best way of gathering information and influencing events." Why not go to Syria and talk directly to the Syrians?

Condi: Well, it's ironic: Richard Armitage was actually the last [senior] U.S. administration official to go to Damascus, [and he told them], "You know, it's about to be a new day, the President had just been re-elected, it's really time for Syria to make a strategic choice. ... The problem isn't talking to Syria, the problem is that Syria doesn't act when people talk to them. ... To talk to Syria about Lebanon is a very interesting strategy, since we've spent a lot of time and energy trying to get Syria out of Lebanon — they occupied Lebanon for the last 30 years — and I think to suggest that somehow Syria is a part of the equation for a stable Lebanon, after they occupied the country for 30 years, after they created the conditions that permitted Hezbollah to become a state-within-a-state, after they have repeatedly intimidated and perhaps even contributed to the assassination of Lebanese officials — it's a rather odd strategy to say that Syria is somehow going to be a part of stabilizing Lebanon. [Condi also pointed out that the U.S. does talk to Syria, we have an embassy and a chargé d'affaires, although we withdrew our ambassador when Syria refused to cooperate with an international investigation into the assassination of Lebanese former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.]
It is absolute lunacy to suggest that it is possible to create a stable Lebanon without making Syria a part of the equation, because Syria has been — as Secretary Rice points out — a part of the equation of the instability of Lebanon. Syria must be part of stabilizing Lebanon; most particularly, Syria must refrain from destabilizing Lebanon. Do we really expect Syria to refrain from destabilizing Lebanon just because we wag our finger at them from afar?

Russert also referred to a quote from President Bush: "This moment of conflict in the Middle East is painful and tragic. Yet it is also a moment of opportunity for broader change in the region." At that, Condi threw in the canard about the Chinese characters, crisis = danger + opportunity; surely there is someone at the State Department who actually speaks Chinese, who could disabuse the Secretary of such embarrassing 傻的外国人 foolishness. You might as well say that the English word do is composed of the words danger and opportunity, since it contains the first character of each.

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