July 31, 2006

What, Me Worry? Opportunity's A-Knockin'

Bush, a couple days back with Blair:

We agree that a multinational force must be dispatched to Lebanon quickly, to augment a Lebanese army as it moves to the south of that country. An effective multinational force will help speed delivery of humanitarian relief, facilitate the return of displaced persons, and support the Lebanese government as it asserts full sovereignty over its territory and guards its borders.

We're working quickly to achieve these goals. Tomorrow, Secretary Rice will return to the region. She will work with the leaders of Israel and Lebanon to seize this opportunity to achieve lasting peace and stability for both of their countries. Next week, the U.N. Security Council will meet, as well. Our goal is a Chapter 7 resolution setting out a clear framework for cessation of hostilities on an urgent basis, and mandating the multinational force.

WaPo, today:

Haass, the former Bush aide who leads the Council on Foreign Relations, laughed at the president's public optimism. "An opportunity?" Haass said with an incredulous tone. "Lord, spare me. I don't laugh a lot. That's the funniest thing I've heard in a long time. If this is an opportunity, what's Iraq? A once-in-a-lifetime chance?"

Bush's elephantine innocence about the Middle East increasingly has us staggering about the region like purblind ignorants. Meantime, his rhetoric is getting increasingly uneven. Note this part of the same press conference, where he mixes up Syria and Iran, and appears to state one or the other already has a nuke:

Q Thank you. Mr. President, and Prime Minister Blair, can I ask you both tonight what your messages are for the governments of Iran and Syria, given that you say this is the crisis of the 21st century?

PRESIDENT BUSH: Want me to start? My message is, give up your nuclear weapon and your nuclear weapon ambitions. That's my message to Syria -- I mean, to Iran. And my message to Syria is, become an active participant in the neighborhood for peace.

As I said, uneven, sloppy rhetoric. Bush, who struggles to understand even the broadest contours of the Middle East canvas, clearly cannot effectively imbibe the myriad complexities (dreary details!) of this so complicated region. And, alas, this is not a situation like we had with Ronald Reagan, where a leader of limited intellect and strong core convictions, at least could delegate to serious players. Now instead, we have Rumsfeld and Cheney-- in short, discredited, damaged goods. Meantime, Rice has her hands (very) full, and has lost in Bob Zoellick a talented deputy. I again repeat my call for Richard Armitage to be urgently appointed Secretary of Defense. These are times of significant crisis, and the bench is far too thin. While bridges between the Bush-Cheney camp and Powell-Armitage one may have been mostly burned (this is sheer speculation, of course), I have heard some accounts that Bush felt more comfortable around Armitage than, say, Powell, and had even bonded with him on occasion. And while I'm no Plameologist a la Tom Maguire, I trust Armitage is eminently confirmable. There will be quite a few military-centric, diplomatic security issues to grapple with in the Middle East over the coming months, and Rumsfeld won't have nary a clue how to broach them. We need someone like Armitage, badly--whose combination of long military (four Vietnam tours, rather than deferments) and diplomatic experience would be a major asset.

Posted by Gregory at July 31, 2006 04:15 AM

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Gregory Djerejian comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.

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