February 15, 2006
Bungled Mideast Policy or Wrongheaded Criticism
I am not the biggest fan of the US Administration and its Middle East policy, that is certain. Indeed, I rather consider them a bunch of congenital and serial incompetent bunglers whose policies may be described with Talleyrand's "Worse than a crime, a blunder."
One might expect, then, I might be in agreement with the opinions voiced by the Democratic party opposition in this article from Reuters:
US bungles Middle East policy, lawmakers tell Rice
By Sue Pleming
Well, I am not. Sadly the criticism, rather than being well-founded, is largely based on the same kind of simple-minded magical thinking and wishful-thinking-as-analysis that has led the Bush Administration astray so very badly so many times. Criticism about Hamas rather than Fatah winning the elections in Palestine, for example. As if the US has a magic wand to wave to make the 'good guys' of the moment win (or forgetting that using such wands that do exist to achieve 'victory' for one's favoured side can be rather Pyrrhic, ending up with damaged goods).
Mistakes in U.S. Middle East policy have made America less safe and aided the militant group Hamas's victory in Palestinian elections, Democratic and Republican lawmakers told Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Wednesday.
Oh, poor babies, the "wrong" guys won. And now some Likoudnik bootlickers whinge on.
Hamas's win last month in the Palestinian territories and the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood's rise in Egypt have fueled criticisms over U.S. President George W. Bush's strategy of pushing for democracy in the Middle East.
"This administration seems to have a tin ear when it comes to the Middle East and that tin ear is making us less safe," Sen. Barbara Boxer, a Democrat, told Rice at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.
The California Democrat suggested U.S. policies in the Middle East, as well as in Latin American nations Bolivia and Venezuela whose governments are hostile to Washington, were boosting the election chances of anti-American candidates.
Without having seen this nor the transcript, it is hard to know if Boxer's comments are intelligent or not.
Certainly the Bush Administration has a tin ear in the MENA region. It listens to the wrong people, clumisly uses delusionally magical thinking as to results of policies, and generally blunders about like a blind elephant that's been goaded in the bollocks by a brand.
However, in terms of boosting Hamas' election chance, well, short of taking a tough line with Israel with respect to expansion of settlements and the like, there was not much the US could really do to make Fatah look good.
Of course, it is fairly magical to think democracy will result in people you like when one's policies in region are despised in grosso modo.
Rice said it took time for democracy to take hold.
"Yes there are going to be some outcomes that are not perfect from the American point of view, but I don't think that our policy can be that you can only have elections if you plan to elect candidates that are friendly to America," she said.
"If the option is not to hold elections and not to give people their say then that is an untenable position for the United States," Rice added.
Very good, an excellent retort by Rice.
I like her more and more as Sec of State.
Rice said it was wrong to imply the Middle East had been stable before the Bush administration launched its democracy push, arguing that 60 years of U.S. foreign policy caused a "freedom deficit" that was difficult to fix in a couple of years.
"It is too much to expect ... those political parties to develop overnight," she said.
She has a point, although if one counts Iraq as part of that push, well the Bush Administration certainly has contributed to destabilisation. It is also somewhat unfair to the US to shoulder all the blame for the 'freedom deficit' - but on the other hand remarks have to get to the point, better to shoulder responsibility in this context than not.
Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee from Rhode Island took aim at Rice for not doing enough to support Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah Party was defeated by Hamas in the Jan. 25 Palestinian election.
"The whole year, 2005, nothing was done, opportunities missed and now we have a very, very disastrous situation of a terrorist organization winning an election," said Chafee.
"Why didn't we take advantage of these opportunities (to stop Hamas)?" asked Chafee.
And here we are, at the core of the magical thinking as policy question.
Would Chafee have plumped for the only actions that might have built up Fatah (i.e. help it look less like a tool of US-Israeli interests)? I think not.
Rice said she had worked as hard as she could on the Middle East peace process. Hamas's victory was not due to any failure of U.S. foreign policy but rather a backlash against Fatah which many Palestinians viewed as corrupt, she said.
"There are times when elections turn out in ways we wish they did not. Clearly the election of Hamas is a difficult moment in the prospects for peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis," Rice told the hearing.
A fair response, insofar as she can not obviously take a whack at Israel in such instances.
Hamas's victory came as a surprise to the United States and Chafee said Washington should be prepared for a rise in popularity of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
In elections last year, the Muslim Brotherhood emerged as the biggest opposition group. This week, the Egyptian government postponed local elections for two years in a move Islamists said was aimed at maintaining the ruling party's grip on power.
Republican Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota jumped to Rice's defense over her department's democracy agenda.
"Democracy is a messy thing," said Coleman. "These are messy times now," he said.
Well, thanks Norm.
All in all, I suppose this illustrates why US policy in the region is such an incoherent mess. Magical thinking expecting magical results.
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Messianism in US foreign policy is a long-recurrent but increasingly virulent disease. Neoconservatism, for example, is merely the latest and rudest version of many more touchy-feely versions found across the established political spectrum.
Posted by: matthew hogan at February 15, 2006 08:13 PM
I still prefer Powell, though Rice clearly gets more done due to not being cockblocked at every turn.
There was a very telling line in that NYT article on the US-Israeli discussions about ousting Hamas:
Mr. Asaad laughed and added: "First, I thank the United States that they have given us this weapon of democracy. But there is no way to retreat now. It's not possible for the U.S. and the world to turn its back on an elected democracy."
Democracy as a weapon. Can be seen as a potentially positive development (i.e. recognizing that popular will may have better long-term payoffs than violence/underground movements). On the other hand, the speaker clearly intends to use democracy as a weapon against the US by securing votes through anti-American platforms.
With respect to the Israel-US discussions on ousting Hamas, this is rather less subtle than the obvious display of "stepping back" that happend during the constitutional negotiations in Iraq.
Posted by: eerie at February 15, 2006 08:51 PM
The best approach would, of course, be to eliminate all US aid to Israel, Egypt, and the PA, and let them all figure out how to live with each other on their own, but that of course ain't ever going to happen.
Absent that, Rice does actually have a point, as much as it pains me to say that, since as far as I'm concerned she, Rumsfeld, Cheney, and a bunch of others should all be in jail for condoning and even promoting torture. At least Powell, being a military man, had the proper revulsion to that technique.
But the real point, which, who knows, even Rice may come around to some day, is that none of these countries are colonies or protectorates of the US, and treating them as if they were and as if we could influence them enough to change them in a way that would make us safer is just stupid. In this regard, the Dems are as stupid as the Reps. Only the Libertarians would have the right view, and of course they would be and are condemned as isolationists. Except that in my view the isolationists are right, and World War II is simply the exception that proves the rule.
Posted by: pantom at February 16, 2006 12:24 AM
It wasn't bad enough Rice was taking a nap while Bin Laden planned 9/11 while he was still on the government's payroll so once again, she's a sleep! The Hamas win was just the latest in a string of foreign policy failures by Rice and at the rate she's going, this country will soon be part of China! I have nothing personal against this woman but this country needs someone who can repair the damage this administration has done and its obvious she's not the person for the job. By the time this administration is done, the United States will not only be broke but known for the foreign policy blunders by both Rice and Bush! What an embarrassment!
Posted by: Charles at July 7, 2006 08:15 AM
Barbara Boxer is one of those gutless Dems who is always trying to out-macho the Republicans, and can be pretty cynical about saying what she thinks American voters want to hear - no one particularly respects her or thinks of her as a leader. So the pot shot at the Bushies for not doing enough to Keep 'Murrca Safe is par for the course. Having said that, it's slightly encouraging to see American policymakers acknowledge that American foreign policy (rather than hatefillededucation or thosepeoplejusthatefreedom) creates ill-will towards the US in the Middle East.
Rice certainly talks the talk but it's just talk. She hasn't been able to get the administration to actually follow through on her fine words.
Posted by: SP at July 7, 2006 10:06 AM
"A fair response, insofar as she can not obviously take a whack at Israel in such instances."
Why is it impossible for Ms. Rice to "take a whack at Israel"?
Posted by: Kadaicha Man at July 10, 2006 12:40 AM
Politics, mate, politics.
But as for the taking a nap during 11 Sep., that's bollocks. Pure party political bollocks.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at July 10, 2006 04:55 PM