Condi’s Flying Dutchman
By MAUREEN DOWD
As USA Today noted about summer movies, the hot trend in heroines “is not the damsel in distress. It’s the damsel who causes distress.”
Uma, Oprah. Oprah, Condi.
The more W. and his tough, by-any-means-necessary superbabe have tried to tame the Middle East, the more inflamed the Middle East has become. Now the secretary of state is leaving, reluctantly and belatedly, to do some shuttle diplomacy that entails little diplomacy and no shuttling. It’s more like air-guitar diplomacy.
Condi doesn’t want to talk to Hezbollah or its sponsors, Syria and Iran — “Syria knows what it needs to do,’’ she says with asperity — and she doesn’t want a cease-fire. She wants “a sustainable cease-fire,’’ which means she wants to give the Israelis more time to decimate Hezbollah bunkers with the precision-guided bombs that the Bush administration is racing to deliver.
“I could have gotten on a plane and rushed over and started shuttling, and it wouldn’t have been clear what I was shuttling to do,” she said.
Keep more civilians from being killed? Or at least keep America from being even more despised in the Middle East and around the globe?
Like Davy Jones, the octopus-headed creature who had to keep sailing Flying Dutchman-like without getting to land in the new “Pirates of the Caribbean,’’ Condi had a hard time finding an Arab port in which to dock.
The Arab street, declared prematurely dead by the neocons after the Iraq invasion, is so incensed over scenes of mass graves, homeless children and Israeli ground incursions into Lebanon that Egypt spurned Ms. Rice’s bid to meet next week in Cairo. (Her only consolation is that at least the autocratic Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, is listening to the Arab street as she has been harping on him to do for more than a year.)
The Arab allies, who agreed to meet her and European envoys in Rome, clearly did not want to be used as a stalling tactic on Arab turf, with Condi miming diplomacy to buy time for Israel. Maybe, like Jack Sparrow, they can at least bring a jar of Arab turf with them.
In a twist that illustrated the growing power of Shiites and Iranians, even the Shiite Iraqi prime minister broke with the Bush stance and denounced Israeli attacks on Lebanon. Is there no honor among puppets?
Condi was as cool as ever in the State Department briefing room yesterday, perfectly groomed in a camel-colored suit with an athletic white stripe. Like her boss, she does not show any sign of tension over the fact that all of their schemes to democratize the Middle East ended up creating more fundamentalism, extremism, terrorism and anti-Americanism. Having ginned up the idea that Al Qaeda was state-sponsored terrorism backed by Saddam, now W. and Condi have to contend with the specter of real state-sponsored terrorism.
Like a professor who has grown so frustrated with one misbehaving student that she turns her focus on another, Condi put aside the sulfurous distraction of Iraq and enthused over the need to make the fragile democracy in Lebanon a centerpiece of the “new Middle East.”
She said that the carnage there represented the “birth pangs of a new Middle East, and whatever we do we have to be certain that we are pushing forward to the new Middle East, not going back to the old one.” Yet everything in the Middle East seems to be reeling backward in a scary way, and neocons are once more mocking W. as a wimp who should blow off the State Department and blow up Syria and Iran.
Having inadvertently built up Iran with his failures in Iraq, W. is eager now to send Iran a shock-and-awe message through Israel.
The Bush counselor Dan Bartlett told The Washington Post that the president “mourns the loss of every life, yet out of this tragic development he believes a moment of clarity has arrived.”
W. continues to present simplicity as clarity. When will he ever learn that clarity is the last thing you’re going to find in the Middle East, and that trying to superimpose it with force usually makes things worse? That’s what both the Israelis and Ronald Reagan learned in the early 1980’s when they tried disastrously to remake Lebanon.
The cowboy president bet the ranch on Iraq, and that war has made almost any other American action in the Arab world, and any Pax Americana that might have been created there, impossible. It’s fitting that Condi is the Flying Dutchman, since Lebanon represents the shipwreck of our Middle East policy.